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."
The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.
Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.
“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”
Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.
The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.
Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.
None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.
Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?
And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?
“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”
The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.
And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.
For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.
After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.
“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”
Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”
As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.
“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”
Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.
The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home.
“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”
To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.
“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.
“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."