From Comcast SportsNetDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Danica Patrick's talking about challenges that lay ahead, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon aren't saying whether they have patched their differences, and Brad Keselowski is eager to defend his Sprint Cup title.That's right, the start of another NASCAR season is just around the corner.Patrick said Thursday that she does not plan to race in this year's Indianapolis 500 because she wants to concentrate on her first full-time season on NASCAR's highest level of competition.Bowyer brushed aside questions about whether he and Gordon have made up in the months that have passed since a fight between the two drivers' crews broke out after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer the week before last season's finale."Who cares? Really, who cares?" Bowyer said, addressing the media on the first day of testing of NASCAR's new "Gen 6" cars at Daytona International Speedway. "Apparently, you guys do way more than we do. I can promise you that."Keselowski is still riding high after capturing his first Sprint Cup championship in 2012. He was the first driver on the track for the start of three days of testing in preparation for next month's Daytona 500, even if he wound up running fairly low on the speed charts."I am not happy not being fast. I can tell you that, but you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month or month-and-a-half," Keselowski said. "Being first on the track ... is our little way of needling the competition to say that even if we aren't fastest we are going to be the first ones on it."Patrick, who announced on her Facebook page in November that she and her husband, Paul Hospenthal, are divorcing after seven years of marriage, also skipped the Indy 500 last year.Instead, she ran in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day, which is what she intends to do again.Patrick is coming off her first full season in NASCAR, a year in which she ran full Nationwide schedule and 10 Sprint Cup Series races after leaving IndyCar."The team and I decided to focus on (Sprint) Cup. It's going to be plenty of work as it is, and it's going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car," Patrick said. "But If I do do the Indy 500 moving forward, it will be with Go Daddy."She said her 2013 schedule also could include some Nationwide series events, although she has not yet signed a deal with a racing team or sponsor."I'm not sure if that's completely set. There have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner, and we're definitely talking to them trying to figure it out," Patrick said. "We're definitely working on that, but there's been nothing signed yet, and the exact dates and the sponsor has yet to be confirmed for all that."Essentially, the Daytona testing marks the end of the offseason for drivers.There's more testing next week in Charlotte of the cars NASCAR is counting to improve racing and re-kindle fan interest, with Speedweeks at Daytona to follow. The Daytona 500 kicks off the Sprint Cup schedule on Feb. 24."Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to passenger cars you see on the roads. ... They're certainly cool looking," Bowyer said.Bowyer declined to say whether reports that he and Gordon spent time together on a yacht on New Year's Eve."I think he was on that same boat. There were a lot of other people on that boat. It was a big time being had," Bowyer said at one point.When asked if the drivers had spent any time bonding, Bowyer responded: "Yeah, we held hands and walked off the boat, discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation. That was the one person that I definitely wanted to take vacation with. Yes, I could not wait to get there for that very reason. Is that what you wanted me to say?"For his part, Gordon confirmed he and Bowyer saw each other on the boat while attending what he described as the "party of the year" thrown by entertainer P Diddy in St. Barts. NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick also was there."We were just hanging out and having a good time, and on walks Bowyer and Harvick and a couple of other folks," Gordon said. "I don't know. It was a great New Year's. I enjoyed myself very much."But did they leave as friends?"I don't remember seeing him leave the boat," Gordon quipped.Well, did they at least speak to each other?"We talked," Gordon replied. "I had a great New Year's."Meanwhile, Patrick said she is looking forward to the challenge of running a full Sprint Cup challenge and reiterated it will be important to maintain realistic expectations of what she might be able to accomplish as a rookie."I think it's very difficult at this point in time to put sort of numbers to exactly where I should be finishing," she said. "I think you can look at a little bit of what happened last year as a bit of a baseline as to expectation levels and definitely areas that need work."But it's a new year; it's a new car and a lot of stuff changes. ... I think we just need to get started on the season, get these first few races out of the way and then start to create some baseline for what we are expecting and what we are shooting for."Everyone is shooting for what Keselowski has -- the championship.For him, he said it's "slowly soaking in" what it's like to be a Cup champion and the "some of the doors that open up, whether it is people showing you more respect or opportunities to do different events you may never have had before.""To me that is the most fun and more honoring moments of being a champion. I really look forward to seeing how those open up," Keselowski added. "The great thing that separates winning a championship from winning a race is that you are a champion for a whole year. I feel like I won a race, but you get to celebrate it for a whole year. That is a really good feeling."
For White Sox fans focused on what’s happening at the major league level, there’s understandable frustration over the team’s 25-games-below-.500 record.
But in the minor leagues, progress is happening, and there was no more tangible sign of that than Thursday, when a host of the organization’s highly touted prospects, including top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez, were promoted.
Jimenez, ranked as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, is the biggest name of the bunch. He’s moving on up from Double-A Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte, joining top-ranked pitching prospect Michael Kopech as being just a step away from playing on the South Side.
Jimenez got a late start to the season while recovering from an injury, but he’s put up impressive numbers, with a .317/.368/.556 slash line to go along with 10 home runs, 42 RBIs and 15 doubles in 53 games.
Plenty of fans and observers have deemed Jimenez ready for the majors right now, but general manager Rick Hahn had said for a while that Jimenez would play at the Triple-A level, citing the different way pitchers will attack him as a hitter and the oft-discussed boxes that the White Sox need to see every prospect check (the reason Kopech is still playing at Triple-A).
Jimenez is the organization’s top-ranked prospect, but the White Sox have created an unbelievable depth of highly touted guys and a lot of them were on the move Thursday, too.
Luis Robert, who just recently started his season after recovering from a thumb injury, was moved from Class A Kannapolis to Class A Winston-Salem, as Hahn said he would just a little while ago. Robert was the victim of overcrowding in the Winston-Salem outfield, a problem somewhat remedied by Thursday’s moves. The No. 3 prospect in the White Sox system and the No. 24 prospect in baseball, Robert slashed .289/.360/.400 with four RBIs and four stolen bases in just 13 games.
Dylan Cease, acquired with Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs, was promoted from Class A Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham. Cease is the organization’s No. 5 prospect and the No. 52 prospect in the game. He went 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 71.2 innings with Winston-Salem.
Luis Alexander Basabe was one of the bigger stories of the first half of the minor league season, sticking out among a group of highly productive outfielders at Class A Winston-Salem. He was promoted to Double-A Birmingham after slashing .266/.370/.502 with nine homers, 12 doubles and five triples to go along with 30 RBIs in 58 games. Basabe is ranked the No. 13 prospect in the White Sox organization.
Luis Gonzalez tore it up in the first half at Class A Kannapolis, and last year’s third-round pick was promoted to Class A Winston-Salem. Ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the White Sox system, Gonzalez slashed .300/.358/.491 with eight homers, 16 doubles, 26 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 55 games.
Ian Hamilton was promoted from Double-A Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte after posting a pencil-thin 1.78 ERA in 21 relief appearances. The No. 19 prospect in the White Sox organization racked up 12 saves in 13 save opportunities with the Barons and allowed just five earned runs in his 25.1 innings. Hamilton is a name to watch considering the bullpen of the future is far less defined than the White Sox rotation of the future.
Seby Zavala, ranked as the White Sox No. 21 prospect, showed during the first half that his prospect ranking should perhaps be much higher. He’s moving from Double-A Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte after slashing .271/.358/.472 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 56 games.
Alex Call, a third-round pick in 2016, was promoted from Class A Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham. Call slashed .256/.368/.421 with 19 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in 56 games.
Joel Booker, who famously stole home for a walk-off win earlier this season and also won the South Atlantic League All-Star Game MVP award this week, was promoted from Class A Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham after he slashed .297/.389/.468 21 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in 53 games.
Blake Battenfield, taken in the 17th round of last year’s draft, starred for Class A Kannapolis in the first half with a 2.00 ERA in 13 starts. He struck out 69 batters in 67.2 innings and earned a promotion to Class A Winston-Salem.
Lincoln Henzman, another 2017 draftee, selected in the fourth round, was also promoted from Class A Kannapolis to Class A Winston-Salem. He had a 2.23 ERA and 60 strikeouts in his 13 starts with the Intimidators.
The Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings flipped a coin to determine which team gets two different sets of numbers for NBA Draft Lottery. The Bulls won, but their set of numbers landed them the seventh overall pick. Meanwhile, the Kings won overall landing the second overall pick.
While the coin toss and lottery didn't work in their favor, the Bulls could be taking matters into their own hands and are looking to climb the draft order. According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the Bulls are "exploring the possibility of moving up to No. 4 or No. 5".
Bulls fans have been enamored with Michael Porter Jr., but Givony says the Bulls are looking for a big man to pair alongside Lauri Markkanen like Mo Bamba or Jaren Jackson Jr.
The seventh overall pick has been kind to the Bulls in the past, netting the team players like Kirk Hinrich and more recently, Markkanen (who was technically drafted by the Timberwolves but was a part of the trade for Jimmy Butler on draft night).
Now, Markkanen is the centerpiece of the Bulls plans as they build for the future. After Bamba's workout with the Bulls, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider Vincent Goodwill noted the Texas big man could be the best fit alongside Markkanen and Bamba agreed.
“I think Lauri and I, we're in a sense ... the front court of the future,” Bamba said. “I mean, he can step out and really shoot it really well. That gives me a lot of room to operate down low and start to develop.”
NBA Draft night could once again shape up to be an exciting night for Bulls fans.
Make sure to follow Bulls Talk, insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman for all the latest news surrounding the NBA Draft. Goodwill and Strotman will be at the Advocate Center, the Bulls Draft headquarter providing extensive coverage.