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National Sports Briefs

Associated Press
MARTINSVILLE, Va. ó Martinsville Speedway is the place where Jimmie Johnson started his four-race winning streak a year ago on his way to his second consecutive championship.
As rain fell Friday and wiped out qualifying, putting the points-leading Johnson on the pole for the second week in a row, the drivers closest to him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup couldn’t help but wonder if a third straight title was almost a foregone conclusion.
“I don’t know where Jimmie gets his horseshoes,” Carl Edwards said, “but he’s got amazing luck, and they do everything right, so we just have to hope for something strange to happen.”
Tony Stewart, who has won two championships himself, said Saturday it’s difficult not to look at what Johnson has accomplished over the last three seasons and simply marvel.
“It’s hard to win it once,” Stewart said of the championship, which he won in 2002 and 2005. “To win it two years in a row is extremely hard, and to just be in a position where you have the opportunity to try and win it three years in a row is unbelievable.”
NBA
CHARLOTTE ó Joe Johnson scored 22 points and Mike Bibby added nine of his 14 points in the final 3 minutes as the Atlanta Hawks held off Charlotte 102-96 on Saturday, keeping Bobcats coach Larry Brown winless in his newest job.
Emeka Okafor had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but got little help from the frontcourt-deficient Bobcats (0-5).
TRUCKS
MARTINSVILLE, Va. ó Johnny Benson passed Ron Hornaday Jr. with 46 laps to go and won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
The victory, Benson’s fifth of the season, allowed him to go from 39 points behind Hornaday for the series lead to 65 points ahead when Hornaday ran out of gas with three laps to go.
GOLF
LAS VEGAS ó Marc Turnesa topped the leaderboard for the third straight day in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead.
TENNIS
MADRID, Spain ó Rafael Nadal will end the year at No. 1 after he and Roger Federer both lost in the semifinals of the Madrid Masters on Saturday.
Andy Murray and Gilles Simon will meet in the final. The resilient Simon upset Nadal 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6) after the fourth-ranked Murray beat Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to prevent what would have been the fifth Nadal-Federer final this season.

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