Sports at a glance

Johnson, Lowe’s parting ways

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Lowe’s, one of the last remaining corporate giants in NASCAR, announced Wednesday that it will not sponsor seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson after this season, an ominous sign for the nation’s top racing series.

For Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports, it means the best NASCAR driver of his generation has a blank slate of “inventory” for the first time in nearly two decades.

For Lowe’s, the decision is simply business.

Lowe’s signed on in the heady days of NASCAR when teams paid $20 million or more just to get in the door with a top team. A deal for an entire 36 race package, plus the two all-star events, could cost upward of $30 million per season. As one executive once put it, for Lowe’s, taking that chance on Johnson, was like “winning the lottery.”

Times have changed. Sponsor after sponsor has scaled back on full package commitments, and teams now sell open inventory on their cars in pieces.

Now Hendrick Motorsports will put Johnson’s car on the open market and they can sell the inventory in pieces for the first time.

Tubby Smith out at Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tubby Smith has been fired as Memphis men’s basketball coach after two seasons amid dropping attendance and donations to the athletic department.

Smith told reporters he was no longer coach as he left a meeting Wednesday with Memphis President M. David Rudd and athletic director Tom Bowen.

Smith went 40-26 at Memphis, including 21-13 this season. The Tigers won seven of their final nine games before losing Saturday 70-60 to No. 8 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals, their third loss to the AAC champs this season.

Obama picks Mich. St., UConn

CHICAGO — Former President Barack Obama has picked his NCAA Tournament brackets, and he has Michigan State winning the men’s title and — no surprises — UConn winning the women’s championship.

Obama has the Spartans beating Bucknell, Syracuse, Duke, and top-seeded Kansas to reach the Final Four along with defending national champion North Carolina, Villanova, and Virginia. Then he has Michigan State topping Villanova in the national semifinals and Virginia, the tournament’s top seed, for the national championship.

On the women’s side, Obama has the unbeaten Huskies, the overall No. 1 seed, defeating Saint Francis, Quinnipiac, Duke, and South Carolina to reach the Final Four along with Louisville, Notre Dame and Mississippi State. UConn beats longtime rival Notre Dame in the national semifinals and Mississippi State for the title.

Halep advances to semifinals

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Simona Halep fought the wind and a pesky opponent to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday.

The world’s top-ranked woman outlasted Petra Martic of Croatia 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3 and improved to 18-1 in matches this year.

Winds gusting to 15 mph made shots tricky. Trailing 4-2 in the first set, Martic closed to 5-4 before Halep served it out.

Martic controlled the second set, taking a 5-2 lead before Halep forced the tiebreaker. The Romanian tied it 5-all before Martic won the final two points to force a third set. Halep rallied from a 2-1 deficit to tie it 3-all before winning the last three games.

The Associated Press

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