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Hamlin and Gibbs group go to Martinsville as title favorites

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All of the momentum is with Denny Hamlin headed to Martinsville Speedway for the opening race of the third spherical of NASCAR’s playoffs.

Hamlin, a five-time winner on the Virginia quick observe, needn’t look far for worthy challengers, together with two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.

JGR moved into the spherical of eight with three of its 4 drivers nonetheless racing for the Cup Sequence title and an affordable shot at advancing the trio into the season finale shootout subsequent month. Kyle Busch was the regular-season champion and holds a four-point lead over teammate Martin Truex Jr. within the standings earlier than Sunday’s race. Truex leads the collection with six wins, together with two within the first spherical of the playoffs.

Hamlin is third in factors and coming off his fifth win of the season, giving Gibbs and Toyota an incredible 1-2-Three assault for the title. It is solely becoming the Gibbs group is on this place — the group has received 16 of the 32 races up to now this season — however snagging three of the ultimate 4 spots within the Homestead-Miami Speedway title-deciding race can be a tough navigation contained in the group.

“Proper now, we have now superb chemistry,” Gibbs stated after Hamlin received at Kansas Speedway final Sunday. “It is not going to purchase us something subsequent week. I get so nervous. I used to be all enthusiastic about (Hamlin), then someone talked about subsequent week, and I virtually threw up. I stated ‘You imply this does not get us to Homestead?'”

No, the street to Homestead begins on the shortest observe on the circuit, a tough paper clip-shaped 0.526-mile oval. The center spherical is at Texas Motor Speedway after which the championship area of 4 is determined at ISM Raceway outdoors Phoenix.

Busch, a four-time winner this season however mired in a stretch of 18 races with out one, is prepared for this nail-biting spherical. He has simply two top-five finishes by way of the primary six playoff races and is keen to get again up entrance.

“I really feel prefer it’s our greatest spherical. We run effectively in any respect three of these locations and we have received just a few at Texas, we received Martinsville twice and Phoenix has been getting higher for us, too,” Busch stated. “We simply have to proceed to execute and do an excellent job and be sure that we thoughts our Ps and Qs.”

Truex has by no means received at Martinsville however his efficiency has picked up the final a number of years. He has completed eighth or higher the final 4 races, was runner-up to Busch in 2017 and third final October.

“We all know what we have to do,” Truex stated. “Now it is only a matter of going out and doing it. We have now been quick, ran up entrance and led laps in any respect of those tracks on this spherical.”

A win at Martinsville provides any group respiration room to concentrate on the Nov. 17 finale and never fear about incomes a slot within the closing 4. Joey Logano was a longshot to win the title final 12 months however received at Martinsville, then upset regular-season heavyweights Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick three weeks later to say his first title.

Logano was practically eradicated from title competition every week in the past when he went to Kansas on the bubble, did not have a exceptional race after which was concerned in a late accident that put him head-to-head with Crew Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for the ultimate spot within the spherical of eight. Keselowski was eradicated, Logano saved his title protection rolling and now hopes Martinsville punches his ticket to Homestead.

The competitors can be fierce from Chase Elliott, who has been within the combine at Martinsville however nonetheless in search of his first win on the observe.

Harvick has had a quiet run up to now by way of the playoffs. He is had three top-five finishes, however hasn’t led laps within the final three races and felt his whole weekend at Kansas was the worst of the 12 months for his Stewart-Haas Racing group. Even when the group will get it corrected, Harvick famous: “Clearly we nonetheless must beat the Gibbs automobiles.”

Notes: The wild playing cards of this spherical are Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney, who each received for the primary time this season within the second spherical of the playoffs to advance. Larson loves Homestead and believes if he is a part of the ultimate 4, he can win the championship. Blaney is racing on further time following his victory at Talladega, however Larson is a real outdoors menace to steal the title for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I at all times stated if I can get to the ultimate 4, I’ve the most effective shot out of anyone,” Larson stated. “Texas can be our greatest likelihood to get a win. Martinsville is our worst likelihood, however we’ll give it our greatest shot.”

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Extra AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports activities



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Japan’s staff takes on South Africa in World Cup knockout

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Earlier than every match, Michael Leitch and his Japan squad have left the sector in a battle-like formation after their warmup, every man in widening ranks behind the captain and together with his proper hand gripping the shoulder of the teammate in entrance.

After every match, the complete squad has lined as much as take a ceremonial bow, within the respectful, conventional method, to thank their supporters — a gaggle that has been swelling exponentially with each win within the group stage of the Rugby World Cup.

Japan will expertise one other first within the event — the primary Rugby World Cup in Asia — when the so-called Courageous Blossoms tackle South Africa within the quarterfinals on Sunday.

Japan gained all 4 of its group video games to prime Pool A, together with an upset win over an Eire staff that was ranked No. 1 earlier than the event. That is the pre-tournament goal seized. But Leitch is much from happy.

The Japanese could not ever have performed a knockout sport, however they hadn’t gained a gaggle sport for 20 years on the Rugby World Cup earlier than profitable three in 2015 — together with the surprising 34-32 win over South Africa that was dubbed the Miracle of Brighton.

Neither Japan nor South Africa has actually targeted on that end result this week. The Japanese as a result of head coach Jamie Joseph does not suppose this staff might be outlined by that event. And the Springboks as a result of … effectively, it is higher forgotten by the two-time World Cup champions.

South Africa beat Japan 41-7 in a warmup sport right here final month, however neither squad is placing an excessive amount of emphasis on that, both.

“Each groups had various things in thoughts. We undoubtedly performed a method of sport that wasn’t round enjoying for South Africa, it was round enjoying for the World Cup,” Japan’s assault coach Tony Brown mentioned Saturday. “Tomorrow is a very totally different sport, a one-off quarterfinal, winner goes on and loser bows out so it is thrilling.”

Joseph and Brown have performed for New Zealand. Joseph performed in opposition to Japan in 1995 and for Japan on the ’99 World Cup. Their assortment of home-grown expertise and naturalized gamers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have actually embraced the Japanese tradition and, with that, have develop into the nation’s staff.

“It is superb the quantity of those that have gotten on the Japan bandwagon,” Brown mentioned. “The quantity of individuals watching each sport and supporting us in Japan has been superb.

“It is the identical in New Zealand. Japan is New Zealand’s second (favourite) staff now, so we’re proud we will characterize them enjoying good footy.”

Entertaining rugby has been Japan’s signature on this event, with the ball recurrently unfold huge to the speedy wings. That would change on Sunday, when South Africa goals to outmuscle them and gradual them down. That technique was apparent when Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus introduced a squad — 24 hours earlier than deadline — that includes six forwards on the eight-man reserves bench.

“I do not suppose it is a double bluff. I believe there’s just one factor they are going to do and that is come and bodily intimidate us,” Brown mentioned. “A messy sport is what they’re good at. Our problem is to play our sport and attempt to entice them into enjoying some Japanese rugby.”

In addition to Leitch, the Japan squad for Sunday incorporates seven different gamers concerned in that huge upset 4 years in the past. Winger Kotaro Matsushima is the joint-leading try-scorer this event thus far, and hooker Shota Horie and lock Luke Thompson each additionally began the sport in ’15. Prop Keita Inagaki and flyhalf Yu Tamura had been on the bench 4 years in the past, however are within the beginning XV this time.

Tamura was the main scorer with 48 factors within the group stage, and his mixture with scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare has been instrumental in offering the connection between Japan’s high-energy forwards and speedy backs.

Nagare, a artful scrumhalf on the smaller aspect, is aware of he can anticipate plenty of consideration from the massive Boks.

“They’re going to come at us head-on — make it a ahead battle,” he mentioned. “We have to struggle correctly there after all, but it surely’s essential to play the ball neatly and make it a fast battle.

“It will likely be actual hand-to-hand fight and difficult, however I am going to hold giving vitality to the staff.”

The Japanese could have virtually unanimous crowd assist. In addition to the virtually 50,000 at Tokyo Stadium, the home broadcast viewers is anticipated to exceed 50 million once more and bars and official fan zones across the nation might be full of supporters carrying red-and-white hooped jerseys and headscarves with hissho, or should win, printed on the entrance.

“We actually really feel the eye and on the floor the followers push us on, too,” Nagare mentioned. “I believe we have now made an excellent impression, not simply within the rugby world, however in the complete sporting world.

“We’ll carry the feelings of our followers but it surely’s one thing we must always really feel after executing our sport.”

Flanker Pieter Labuschagne has expertise of each side on this contest, having performed in South Africa earlier than transferring to Japan in search of alternatives. He stood in as Japan captain for a few video games in the course of the group stage, and has been an essential addition to the hard-working backrow.

“We come from plenty of totally different backgrounds, however we have now all come collectively as one staff, all working towards the identical aim,” Labuschagne mentioned of the Japan staff. “I actually love South Africa however I additionally love Japan and everybody right here. That is our staff. This has develop into our new house. We need to make everybody in Japan proud, everybody on this camp, this group.

“We’re not planning to cease right here, so it is about doing what we did within the pool, carry on enjoying for one another and being one staff.”

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Extra AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports activities



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