Patriots

And the winner of the Sprint Cup title is...

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And the winner of the Sprint Cup title is...

From Comcast SportsNetHOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) -- Brad Keselowski, loud, a little buzzed and soaked in beer, bounded through the door with an oversized bottle of champagne in one hand and his cellphone in the other. He plopped down next to Roger Penske, a pillar of the American auto industry, and triumphantly slapped him on the back."We did it boss," Keselowski hailed."Did you bring your tweeter?" the 75-year-old Penske replied.NASCAR's oddest couple captured its biggest prize Sunday night, when Keselowski brought Penske his first Sprint Cup championship 40 years after the owner's first stock car race. He beat five-time champion Jimmie Johnson of mighty Hendrick Motorsports while delivering the crown that fills a glaring hole on Penske's otherwise sterling racing resume.Penske is considered the gold standard of open-wheel racing -- he has 15 Indianapolis 500 wins -- and his empire makes him one of the most successful businessmen in America. But until Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his NASCAR program was never more than average."Personally, I feel amazing that I've been able to achieve this in racing," Penske said. "I think it took guts for me to stay in the sport. We could have thought, Well, we won the Indy 500 15 times and we're a big deal.' But I'll tell you one thing ... I think I just woke up here tonight, and it's a big thrill."As always, Penske credited his entire organization.But the program really turned behind Keselowski, you know, the kid you first heard about when he tweeted from inside his car during the season-opening Daytona 500 earlier this year. So it was fitting that his first act as champion was sending a tweet, of course, from inside his car. "We did it," he posted with a picture.Then the party really began.The blue collar, Twitter-loving, Michigan native chugged sponsor Miller Lite's product, donned goggles to douse the Blue Deuce crew with champagne, and imagined how his life will change as NASCAR's champion. At 28, he's the eighth youngest champion in NASCAR history and proud he doesn't have a date for the Nov. 30 champions banquet in Las Vegas."I've always wanted to date a celebrity," Keselowski said, "I'm just throwing that out there. That would be really cool, don't you think?"Penske could only shake his head in bewilderment."Maybe I am conservative, but I like to have a little fun, too," Penske said. "And I think when you've won the NASCAR championship, the driver, you can kind of give him a little wider path, and he's certainly taken it side to side. I think it's all good."Keselowski might not have seemed like Penske material three years ago, but he's a cornerstone now.He was a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 when he went to see Penske, convinced he could be the driver to bring "The Captain" a coveted Cup championship. He wiggled free from his contract a year later, and had a second-tier Nationwide championship -- and a closet full of starched white Penske shirts -- to show for his convictions.Now, three years into the partnership, he and Penske have that Cup championship and a connection no one saw coming."Always, throughout my whole life I've been told I'm not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough and I don't have what it takes," Keselowski said from the championship stage. "I've used that as a chip on my shoulder to carry me through my whole career. It took until this year for me to realize that that was right, man, they were right."I'm not big enough, fast enough, strong enough. No person is. Only a team can do that."Keselowski needed 125 starts to win his first championship, the fewest starts since four-time champion Jeff Gordon won his first title in 93 starts in 1995. Keselowski also won a second-tier Nationwide title in 2010, his first season with Penske and the owner's first official NASCAR championship.Gordon, who avoided suspension this week but was fined 100,000 by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer last week at Phoenix, overcame the controversy to win the race in a 20th anniversary celebration for sponsor Dupont and Hendrick Motorsports.It was Gordon's first victory at Homestead, which leaves Kentucky as the only active NASCAR track where he's yet to win.Who did Gordon beat? Bowyer, of course.And Bowyer's second-place finish moved him to a career-best second in the final standings. Third-place went to Ryan Newman, who got his break in NASCAR with Penske and spent seven seasons driving for the owner."He deserves this probably as much as anybody else, if not more because of what he's done for motor racing in general, NASCAR, his dedication to all forms of race cars is probably more than anybody else in the history of auto racing," Newman said. "I know this is probably one of the sweetest moments in his racing career."Keselowski started the race up 20 points on Johnson, who blew a tire and crashed last week at Phoenix to give Keselowski a nice cushion. He needed to finish 15th or higher in the finale to wrap up his first championship. But the Penske team took nothing for granted -- not after Will Power crashed in the IndyCar finale to blow a 17-point lead and lose the championship.And this one got tight, too, especially when Keselowski ran out of gas on pit road during green flag pit stops. It put him a lap down with Johnson leading, and Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe frantically tried to figure out how dire the situation had become.Wolfe crunched the numbers, figuring the No. 2 Dodge would cycle out in the mid-20s, a lap down from the leaders."I know the scenario, and it's not good," Keselowski said.But minutes later, Johnson went to pit road for his own stop and pulled away with a missing lug nut. NASCAR flagged the Hendrick Motorsports team and Johnson was forced back to pit road for another stop.The Penske team was unsure if Keselowski wanted to know what was going on with Johnson."I've got a big picture story if you want to hear it," a team member radioed, then informed Keselowski that Johnson had to pit again."Ten-four. Thank you for telling me. We're back in the game. I got it," he said.It got worse for Johnson from there. He broke a rear end gear in his Chevrolet and went to the garage with 40 laps to go, essentially clinching the championship for Keselowski."It all unraveled pretty quick," Johnson conceded.No longer needing to save fuel, and no longer needing to play it conservatively, he waived off Wolfe's playbook."If he's in the garage, let's race," Keselowski said.That's been Keselowski's attitude since he burst onto the NASCAR scene. He first caught attention as a brash driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide Series team, and he was unapologetic for his aggressive driving and his refusal to back down in long-running feuds with established stars Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.But he's been calmer and focused since joining Penske in 2009. Still, his fame had been largely for the Daytona 500 tweeting.NASCAR loved the attention it received, but quietly admonished him later for having a phone in his car, which is banned because it can manipulate electronic fuel injection systems. So when he tweeted again last week under red at Phoenix, NASCAR fined him 25,000 -- which angered fans who felt a mixed message had been sent.But Keselowski, who was tweeting into the early morning hours Sunday, handed his phone over with no resistance right before he climbed into the car at Homestead.The win is the first for Dodge since Richard Petty's Cup title in 1975, and comes as the manufacturer is leaving NASCAR. Penske announced days after the Daytona 500 it will move to Ford next year, and it led to Dodge's decision to pull out of NASCAR."Not one failure all year long in that Dodge engine, so I want to thank Dodge for what they've done for us," Penske said after Keselowski secured the title.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

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 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”

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