Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
IRL: World Championships at Las Vegas, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7:
As if you needed a reason to take a Vegas weekender, the climax to the IndyCar Racing League hits the desert — or, about as close as its going to get to L.A. IndyCar had held it’s season-ending race at Chicagoland from 2006-08 and then Homestead-Miami Speedway the last two years. Both tracks have been dropped from the schedule. So here we are. The MGM is offering the hotel packages with comped general admission seats to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandalay Bay has the fan zone. They’re going to shut down the Strip on Thursday night for the first time and have the cars parade up Las Vegas Blvd., allowed to go 60 mph for a couple of block stretch. There’s the season-ending awards show. Dario Franchitti is trying to hold off Will Power in the point standings to capture his fourth open wheel racing trophy, to go along with his trophy wife, Ashley Judd, and trophy dog.
Oh, and its Danica Patrick kissing off the IRL before she jumps to NASCAR and competes with Dale Earnhardt Jr., as the most popular racer never to win (she’s ironically also racing with his JR team as a full-time NASCAR Nationwide driver). She’s 10th in the current IRL standings, without a finish better than fifth this year.
“The IndyCar Series is not just me running around,” said Patrick, racing in the No. 7 Andretti car. “If it was, it would be extremely boring. It takes personalities and story lines to maintain interest. NASCAR has been very successful without me. Just because I’m going there now doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed or fail because of me. The same goes for the IndyCar Series.” Patrick has won an IRL event only once in 115 tries. What are the odds of her pulling off a Hollywood finish? She finished fourth at the Vegas track back in March during a NASCAR Nationwide event — the highest placement of a female driver in a NASCAR stock-car series race ever. The MGM has given her 60-to-1 odds to win, versus 8-to-1 for the field.
Meanwhile, IRL CEO Randy Bernard put up a $5 million reward if anyone from outside the IRL could come in and win this race. He got only Scott Speed to sorta accept the challenge. Instead, Bernard set up a deal with Dan Wheldon — the surprise Indy 500 winner will have to start at the back of the record 34-car pack and, if he wins, he’ll split the $5 million with a fan. Wheldon, who hasn’t raced in IndyCar since that Indy victory in May, will drive the No. 77 car jointly entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport. The MGM has the odds of a Wheldon win at 15-to-1. We’ll take that wager.
MLB: AL Championship Series Game 2: Detroit at Texas, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11:
The Tigers should be accustomed to all this rain-delay stuff messing with their post-season pitching rotation. They’ll try Game 2 again today before taking this series, without an off day, back to Detroit, where rain doesn’t seem to be an issue. Game 3 is set for Tuesday (5 p.m., Channel 11), with Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) are in the daytime Wednesday and Thursday at 1 p.m.; a Game 6 would be Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and a Game 7 is set for Sunday at 4:30 p.m., all on Fox.
MLB: NL Championship Series Game 2: St. Louis at Milwaukee, 5 p.m., TBS:
Admit it: You’re getting hooked on “Monsters, Inc.” growling and Nyjer Morgan’s “Tony Plush” alter-ego heroics. Ex-Dodger Edwin Jackson gets the near-impossible task of trying to squash the Ryan Braun brawlers tonight. After a night off, games 3, 4 and maybe 5 are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in St. Louis at 5 p.m., with a Game 6 set for Sunday back in Milwaukee at 1 p.m., all on TBS.
NFL: Chicago at Detroit, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
With or without Hank Williams Jr., the country should be properly inebriated to watch the 4-0 Lions through their beer glasses. Wait, is that Erik Kramer back at QB?
College football: USC vs. Cal in San Francisco, 6 p.m., ESPN:
It’s not Thursday night baseball from the home of the defending World Series champs, just a football game on a field where the Giants call their home. They’re here as a result of Cal’s protests finally being heard — Memorial Stadium was getting too messy, so now they’re fixing it up. Last year, USC’s Matt Barkley threw five TD passes in a 48-14 win that wasn’t even that close. ESPN has Rece Davis, Craig James, Jesse Palmer and Jenn Brown on the broadcast.
NHL: Kings at New Jersey, 4 p.m., FSW:
As long as they’re trekking back from Europe, might as well stop off in Jersey and knock out another mandatory schedule requirement. Even though the Kings were the designated home team in the games played last week in Stockholm and Berlin, eight of the Kings’ first 11 games are actually away from home. Snookie on this one.
Tennis: HSBC Tennis Cup Champions Series, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center:
What would you pay to see Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier goof around in some kind of quasi-tournament? Seats near the net in this one go for $400 apiece; up in the rafters, it’s $35. Two of them play each other in the prelims (first to six wins), and the winners face off in the title match (first to eight). Pulled hamstrings optional. Agassi comes in the freshest — the night before, all but him (Michael Chang is part of that foursome) are doing this in Seattle. on Saturday, Agassi takes Chang, McEnroe and Sampras play in his hometown of Vegas. More info: ChampionsSeriesTennis.com
NHL: Ducks vs. San Jose, Honda Center, 7 p.m., FSW:
Back home from Stockholm with a 1-1 mark, the Ducks have four of their first five in Anaheim. Just in time for one of the preseason Western Conference favorites.
Boxing: Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson, Staples Center, 6 p.m., pay per view:
Same old story: The 46-year-old Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) is trying to use the 29-year-old Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) as a way to extend his legacy as the oldest boxer to hold a major championship. It happened in Montreal last May after Hopkins knocked off Jean Pascal for the WBC light-heavyweight title. “I want Chad Dawson to see I have gray hair,” said Hopkins. ” I want to look like his father. … That age difference is appropriate for me to look like I’m gray, and I have gray, because realistically, if you do the math, he could be my son.”
More intriguing on the undercard: Dewey Bozella, a 52-year-old released from Sing Sing after serving 26 years wrongfully accused of murder in 1983, recently got his boxing license with Hopkins’ help and will make his one-and-only pro fight against a to-be-determined cruiserweight. Bozella gave an inspirational speech at the ESPY Awards last July, sparking Golden Boy Productions to reach out to him and see if he’d like to fulfill his dream. “It was that one-in-a-million chance, because that just doesn’t happen,” said Bozella. “It’s the gift. To never give up.” This fight card will cost your credit card $59.95 HD/$49.95 regular. Tickets range from $25 to $300 face value.
NHL: Kings at Philadelphia, 4 p.m., FSW:
You think Mike Richards has something to prove to the Flyers, who traded their captain to L.A. in the offseason, not because they were particularily interested in adding Wayne Simmonds?
NASCAR: Bank of America 500, from Concord, N.C., 4:30 p.m., Channel 7:
We just dropped BofA as our principal home mortage lender, and took the credit union route from here. Hey, better rates. Why else? Maybe because Bank of America decided it would be the first to charge $5 a month just to use your ATM card at the grocery store. See how that goes when spectators at Charlotte Motor Speedway swipe their plastic at the souvenir shop.
College football: Michigan at Michigan State, 9 a.m., ESPN; Florida at Auburn, ESPN, 4 p.m.; Oklahoma State at Texas, Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.; LSU at Tennessee, 12:30 p.m., Channel 2; Arizona State at Oregon, 7:15 p.m., ESPN:
UCLA has the week off. Check out your options. ESPN sends out Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit to the ASU-Oregon game, starting with the 7 a.m. GameDay.
MLS: Galaxy at Chivas USA, Home Depot Center, 6 p.m., ESPN:
We’ve stopped counting how many goals Juan Pablo Angel has scored with Chivas since the Galaxy gave him away. In the grant scheme, they don’t count for much. The Galaxy have secured the league’s best record, and are playing for the first time after a 12-day break in the SuperClasico/L.A. Derby.
NFL: Minnesota at Chicago, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:
The Bears get their second prime-time exposure in less than a week. If the entire game boiled down to the Vikings constantly punting to Devon Hester, that’d be worth tuning in.