Column: Larson finishes 2nd again, takes over points lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Kyle Larson finished second at Phoenix International Raceway and then headed to the beach for a brief family vacation. There was no lamenting his third consecutive runner-up finish because Larson is the current points leader of NASCAR's top series. His positioning atop the standings is almost as good as a trip to victory lane.

Fresh generation of drivers emerging on NASCAR circuit

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The NASCAR kids keep coming on strong. Five of the highest-starting eight drivers in NASCAR's lineup for its Monster Energy Series race on Sunday are 26 or younger. Ryan Blaney, starting next to pole-sitter and teammate Joey Logano on the front row, is 23. Kyle Larson starts in the second row, and he's all of 24.

Column: It takes a brawl for NASCAR to go mainstream

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Kyle Busch had a gash on his forehead and blood running down his nose when he promised payback to Joey Logano. The two had a brief post-race pit road brawl that can be seen on TMZ, the "Today Show" and, really, just about anywhere.

Erik Jones navigates NASCAR Cup rookie season without father

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- When Erik Jones climbs into his NASCAR Cup Series car Sunday, an important watch will be stowed away in his nearby motorhome. Jones reached the pinnacle of stock-car racing this year amid a void. His father Dave, the watch's owner, died of cancer last year. Since then Jones hasn't gone anywhere without the silver Shinola.

BC-AP Sports Digest

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Update on the latest sports

NFL-NEWS Cowboys to drop Romo as new NFL year begins UNDATED (AP) -- Tony Romo is about to enter the NFL's free agent market. A person with knowledge of the decision tells The Associated Press that the Cowboys will release the quarterback today, as the NFL's 2017 year officially begins. Romo will leave the Cowboys as the franchise leader with over 34,000 passing yards, and 248 touchdowns.

Cowboys expected to release Romo...Mixed news for Cavaliers...Gibbs and Penske among nominees for NASCAR Hall of Fame

UNDATED (AP) -- Tony Romo is about to enter the NFL's free agent market. A person with knowledge of the decision tells The Associated Press that the Cowboys will release Romo today. Romo lost his job as starting quarterback to rookie Dak Prescott after breaking a bone in his back during a preseason game. INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) -- There's good news and bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Gibbs, Penske, Allison among NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Championship team owners Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske as well as the late Davey Allison are among five new nominees for the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. NASCAR announced the additions Wednesday. Three-time Late Model Sportsman and 1956 Modified champion Red Farmer and 2000 NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte also are new to the 20-person nomination class. They join 15 holdovers from last year.

Update on the latest in sports:

NBA-SCHEDULE Heat rally to beat Hornets UNDATED (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs now own a nine-game winning streak that has them atop the NBA's Southwest Division by seven games over Houston. Manu Ginobili (MAN'-oo jih-NOH'-blee) scored 19 points and David Lee had a double-double as the Spurs knocked off Sacramento, 114-104.

Latest North Carolina and South Carolina sports

HORNETS-HEAT Heat win again, rallying to beat Hornets 108-101 MIAMI (AP) -- Dion Waiters scored 24 points, Goran Dragic added 22 points and 10 assists, and the Miami Heat moved within a half-game of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by beating the Charlotte Hornets 108-101 on Wednesday night.

Update on the latest sports

NBA-CAVALIERS-BOGUT Cavaliers center Bogut done for season with broken leg INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) -- Cavaliers center Andrew Bogut will miss the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, with a broken leg. Bogut broke his left leg in his debut for Cleveland on Monday night, an injury that occurred after the 7-footer was on the floor for just 58 seconds.

At last, Stewart finds his way to Daytona 500 victory lane

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Tony Stewart needed to retire to win the Daytona 500. From runner-up through DNFs, he failed to win NASCAR's marquee race. Stewart's NASCAR career ended without a win in 17 tries in the Daytona 500. Turns out he just needed to trade the firesuit for street clothes to bring home the checkered flag. Just months into retirement, Stewart finally got to celebrate in victory lane.

The Latest: Kurt Busch wins Daytona 500 for Stewart-Haas

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Latest on the Daytona 500 (all times local): 6:25 p.m. Kurt Busch has won the Daytona 500, surviving a crash-filled season opener to win the race for the first time in 16 tries. Busch passed Kyle Larson final lap before cruising to the victory. Larson ran out gas shortly after passing Chase Elliott, who also came up short on fuel.

Gibbs, Penske defend NASCAR as having bright future

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Joe Gibbs joined the list of heavy hitters defending NASCAR during one of its shakiest periods in decades. The owner of powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing said NASCAR has a bright future and noted top-level companies would not participate if the sport was a sinking ship.

NASCAR seeks boost to steep decline with strong Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The good news for NASCAR is that all signs indicate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. A victory for NASCAR's most popular driver, in his return to racing after a concussion sidelined him the second half of last season, would be a massive boost for the sagging series.

Penske signs Joey Logano and Shell-Pennzoil to new deal

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Team Penske has locked up a major portion of its NASCAR program by signing driver Joey Logano, crew chief Todd Gordon and sponsor Shell-Pennzoil to extensions that run through "2022 and beyond." The phrasing of the new contracts announced Friday at Daytona International Speedway is a play on Logano's car No. 22. His existing contract ran through 2018, and the extension is believed to be a five-year deal through 2023.

Going, going, gone: NASCAR stars starting to step away

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Jeff Gordon is working in the broadcast booth. Carl Edwards is spending time with family. Tony Stewart is hanging out at dirt tracks. Some of NASCAR's biggest stars have stepped away over the last 15 months, a thought-provoking trend that doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon. Gordon (2015) and Stewart (2016) retired from full-time racing in consecutive years, walking away with a combined seven championships.

LaJoie uses wreck, Johnson pitch to land Daytona 500 spot

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Corey LaJoie's pitch to BK Racing for a ride in the Daytona 500 was going nowhere. LaJoie texted a friend -- just seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson -- to help give his cause a needed boost. Johnson was happy to put in a good word and called the decision-makers at BK Racing to lobby on LaJoie's behalf. Imagine that, the champ's call carried some weight.