Bears

Why Danica Patrick won't run in Indy 500

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Why Danica Patrick won't run in Indy 500

From Comcast SportsNet
CONCORD, North Carolina (AP) -- Danica Patrick, the highest-finishing woman in the Indianapolis 500, will skip the race this season and instead enter NASCAR's longest event of the year. Patrick said Monday she's added the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to her schedule. She'll drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, and team owner Tony Stewart said the decision to sit out the Indianapolis 500 was Patrick's decision. "We didn't tell her she couldn't run the 500. It was left up to her," Stewart said. "It shows how dedicated she is to making this transition." Patrick has left the IndyCar Series for a full-time move to NASCAR. She's running the second-tier Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, and 10 races in the elite Sprint Cup Series for Stewart. She had previously announced eight Cup races, and the Coca-Cola 600 is her ninth announced event. She jokingly called the race "The Coke 6,000. It's quite long, I've been told," and said she's not ready to rule out the Indianapolis 500 forever. "I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500 that is, and maybe it will be a double," she said. "But at this point in time, after a lot of conversations, it's just going to be the Coke 600 and I think it's going to be a big challenge. It's just is something that didn't work out, as far as the business-side of things. "I am hopeful to do it in the future, but for this year, it just didn't happen," Patrick added. Patrick led 19 laps and finished fourth in the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2005. She finished third in 2009. Both the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 are run on May 27. Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti have all tried to run both events on the same day. Stewart, NASCAR's three-time champion, completed the double twice: In 1999, he was ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte, and in 2001, he was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte. He's not tried Indianapolis since, and has let go of his childhood dream of winning the 500. He has twice won the Brickyard 400, NASCAR's race at the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "The hard part for me was you make that decision when you sign up to do (NASCAR)," Stewart said. "The decision you make, you have to come to peace with yourself with saying I'm not going to do this.' That was my childhood dream anyway. It may be a different scenario and feeling for her. But it was hard knowing when I signed that (NASCAR) contract that I was writing off the opportunity to go race at Indy. "It's figuring out at the end of the day what do you really want to do. I guess that's the part that even though it was hard to watch opening day of practice at Indianapolis, I'm enjoying what I'm doing, too, and this is what I want to do at the end of the day," he continued. "It makes you want 30-hour days and 400-day years and we always want to do more than what we're capable of doing, but the reality is you have to pick at some point and choose your career path. This is what I've done and what she's doing now." But Stewart said so long as Indianapolis Motor Speedway makes it logistically possible for Patrick to attempt both races, she may eventually run the race again. He said he has no interest in fielding a car for her, citing how much he's already doing with all his other teams. Patrick has already set some of her expectations for NASCAR, and sounded Monday as if she expects her debut in the Daytona 500 next month to go as well as her debut in the Indianapolis 500. She tested there two weeks ago with new crew chief Greg Zipadelli, and after leading 13 laps at Daytona in last July's Nationwide race, likes her chances in the Feb. 26 season opener. "At Daytona, the cars are very fast, so I feel good about that race," she said. "I was lucky enough to get to run with Tony in the Nationwide race last summer and that went pretty good, so I feel good about Daytona and I think there's a real chance, if luck falls our way, to perhaps win. "I think it's a real chance. I mean a guy like Trevor Bayne last year showed that. Those are the expectations for the first race." Bayne, a rookie last season, was the upset winner of the Daytona 500, which Stewart said was proof that Patrick is a viable contender. "A rookie won it last year, why would you ever count yourself out?" he asked. "She's a talented driver. Our cars were really fast at Daytona. At that point, I'd have that confidence."

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Trevor Zegras

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Trevor Zegras

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Trevor Zegras

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 169 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"Trevor is a high skilled centerman, very good skater, very, very creative, comfortable and creative with the puck."

Zegras describes his own game:

On his creativity: "I think growing up, watching a bunch of guys in the NHL like Patrick Kane mess around the ice, just something I’ve always done as a little kid. Maybe I rolled into the driveway and work on fun passes. It’s what I’m really good at."

NHL player comparable: Patrick Kane

Fit for Blackhawks:

Talk to any player on USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and they'll say Zegras was the most offensively gifted player of the group, which is saying a lot when you consider some of the names he's up against (Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, to name a few).

At the NHL scouting combine, Zegras mentioned Kane several times as somebody he tries modeling his game after. The vision, the passing, the skating, the playmaking ability, the hockey IQ. He has it all offensively, and also doesn't get enough credit for his two-way game.

Zegras is somebody that has quickly been rising on draft boards, and it's because he has the potential to be a 90-point player in the NHL as a center. His name has been discussed by the Blackhawks at No. 3 and he's certainly a tempting option. Pair Zegras with Kane for the next decade and it's scary to think about the numbers the two could put up together.

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