Juan Pablo Montoya grabbed a sliver of the spotlight focused on the three championship contending drivers by winning the pole at Talladega Superspeedway.
Montoya, who is not in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, turned a lap at 184.640 mph to better Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and all the contenders in Saturday’s qualifying session.
While the focus should be on Montoya’s bid to win his first race on an oval track, he knows it will instead be on the middle of the pack, where championship contenders Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick will start today’s race.
“If you are in the Chase and you are not in the top three (in standings), nobody even cares,” Montoya said.
It’s the downside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which pits the top 12 drivers against each other in a 10-race push to the title. Today’s race at Talladega is the beginning of the final four-race stretch, and the field has separated itself so that only three drivers have a realistic shot at winning the title.
And none of them was as good as Montoya in qualifying.
Harvick qualified 14th, Hamlin 17th and Johnson 19th for a race that could be pivotal in shaking up the standings. Because of the unpredictability at Talladega, the rankings could look dramatically different by the time the checkered flag falls today.
Blazers: No deal for Oden
New York — A team spokesman says the Portland Trail Blazers won’t offer a contract extension to former No. 1 pick Greg Oden before the Monday deadline.
The Oregonian reported Friday that the Blazers and Oden’s representatives agreed there would be no extension, making the oft-injured center the first top pick since Kwame Brown not to get one at the end of his rookie contract. Teams have until Monday to reach deals with first-round picks from the 2007 draft.
Spurs’ Parker signs extension
San Antonio — Tony Parker swore he didn’t want to leave the Spurs, and he has a new contract to prove it.
The Spurs signed Parker to a multiyear extension Saturday that preserves their three-time NBA champion core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the star point guard and puts an abrupt end to what would’ve undoubtedly been a season of speculation.
The extension is for $50 million over four years, according to Parker’s website.
Report: Favre expects to start
Eden Prairie, Minn. — Brett Favre tells ESPN that he expects to start for the Vikings against the New England Patriots in today’s game despite two fractures in his left ankle.
The network reported Saturday that Favre said in a telephone interview his injuries have healed significantly and that he plans to start, which would extend his record streak of consecutive regular-season starts to 292 games.
McDowell, Maybin lead
Sotogrande, Spain — Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell shot a 1-over 72 on Saturday in windy conditions for a share of the third-round lead in the Andalucia Masters with countryman Gareth Maybin.
In other golf news:
— South Korea’s Song-Hee Kim birdied four holes in a row on the front nine and finished with her second straight 4-under 68 for a one-stroke lead over defending champion Na Yeon Choi in the LPGA Hana Bank Championship.
— Ben Crane birdied three of the last four holes for a 5-under 66 and a two-stroke lead in the Asia Pacific Classic, the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event in Southeast Asia.
— Larry Nelson made a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 4-under 67 and a one-stroke lead over Jay Don Blake, Steve Lowery and Chien Soon Lu in the AT&T Championship, the Champions Tour’s final full-field event of the year.