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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087

Email: mbaker@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

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  1. New rules, drivers to watch at Daytona 500

    Auto racing

    New season, new rules

    Sunday's Daytona 500 marks the debut of NASCAR's new points system.

    Each race will be divided into three stages. The first two segments are 60 laps each, and the final one is 80 laps. For each of the first two segments, drivers receive points for a top-10 finish — 10 for first, nine for second, etc. The race winner gets 40 points; second place gets 35, third gets 34, and so on. Those points help drivers qualify for the 10-race playoff....

    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, sits in his car during practice for the 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images) 700003202
  2. NASCAR's Drive for Diversity extends careers of Armwood High alums

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Collin Cabre's NASCAR dreams were nearing the end of their road.

    The son of a stay-at-home mom and attorney investigator didn't have a pile of cash in the bank to buy his next ride. And without more money, the Thonotosassa native and Armwood High graduate wasn't sure how he could keep his career going.

    "We were kind of at that point where our parents couldn't take us any farther financially," Cabre said....

    Collin Cabre, an Armwood High graduate who is part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. (Getty Images)
  3. NASCAR fast tracks changes to improve image, interest

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — As NASCAR's top series prepares to open its season with Sunday's Daytona 500, one theme touches almost everything around Daytona International Speedway.

    Change.

    The Cup series' title sponsor has changed, from Sprint to Monster Energy. The rules have changed, again, to try to boost the quality of racing and make every lap more meaningful — and entertaining — across all 36 races. Even the drivers are changing, with new faces from diverse backgrounds replacing some of the sport's biggest stars. ...

    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Daniel Suarez, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, stands on the grid prior to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 23, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) 700003205
  4. Tampa Bay ties remain strong for defending Daytona champ Denny Hamlin

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Denny Hamlin's Tampa crew sat in his motor coach last February and witnessed heartbreak.

    His aunts and uncles and cousins watched on TV in the infield as Hamlin made a last-lap charge in the Daytona 500, flying from fourth to first. But when the checkered flag fell at Daytona International Speedway, they were sure it didn't matter. Martin Truex edged him at the finish line. ...

    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, speaks with the media during the Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images) 700007570
  5. UF focuses on QBs Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask

    College

    GAINESVILLE — Coach Jim McElwain is ready to promote all the positives surrounding his Gators heading into Tuesday's first practice of the spring:

    The way Florida followed a smoke-and-mirrors 10-win season with another SEC East title. The way a once-weak receiving corps has become a strength. That UF has chosen a firm to design a $60 million standalone football complex McElwain called a "game-changer."...

    Florida Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) yells instructions before the snap in the third quarter during the game between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, October 29, 2016. Florida beat Georgia 24-10.
  6. Highlights from Jim McElwain's pre-spring news conference

    Blog

    GAINESVILLE - With the Florida Gators open spring football practice next week, coach Jim McElwain met with reporters today to address a number of topics. Some of the highlights:

    The quarterback position remains in limbo. I'll have more on that later, although McElwain didn't say much. Here's how he responded to a question about how close Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are: "They're real close. There's probably about a half-inch difference between them, I think."...

    Gators coach Jim McElwain met with reporters today to address a number of topics.
  7. If it's Daytona, it's time for the question: When will Danica win a race?

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — It has been five years since Danica Patrick made her Daytona 500 debut, and NASCAR is still waiting on her to live up to the hype.

    She has yet to win a race. Her results have been mediocre. Sponsors have pulled out.

    "I wouldn't say it's the success that I hoped for," Patrick said Wednesday, "but it's definitely not a failure."

    The reality is somewhere in the middle, in the gray area of okay. And it's time to start wondering if Patrick will ever be more than a middle-of-the-pack driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, which opens its new season with Sunday's Daytona 500....

    NASCAR driver Danica Patrick listens to a reporter's question during the Daytona 500 Media Day Feb. 22, 2017 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)  1197916
  8. Plenty of gas left in the tank for 41-year-old Jimmie Johnson

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson entered Wednesday's Daytona 500 media day as the reigning series champion, again, with a shot at history coming up.

    He won his seventh NASCAR title last season, tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most ever. His quest for an eighth begins with Sunday's Daytona 500, an event he has won twice before.

    "I'm excited to have this opportunity," Johnson said at Daytona International Speedway. "At the same time, there's so much racing between now and Homestead …"...

    Jimmie Johnson at Daytona 500 media day. (Matt Baker, Times)
  9. NFL combine numbers: Florida's big 3 dominate, Big 12 lags

    Blog

    As the NFL combine approaches, here's an interesting stat from talent-evaluating guru Gil Brandt:

    The three schools with the most players ever invited to the combine are...Florida State, Florida and Miami.

  10. Indy racer Sting Ray Robb's got a leg up in the name department

    Auto racing

    PALMETTO — The first thing to know about racer Sting Ray Robb is that, yes, Sting Ray is his real name.

    The second thing to know is that the story behind it perfectly fits the 15-year-old Idaho native who will compete in the Pro Mazda series during next month's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

    "It's not the fish," Robb said. "A lot of people think that."

    Here's the real story: His parents loved Corvettes — you know, Corvette Stingrays?...

    Sting Ray Robb, 15 of Idaho, will compete in the Pro Mazda series during next month?€™s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Courtesy of Road to Indy)
  11. Which state school has the most specialty license plates in Tampa Bay?

    Blog

    Because I'm still interested in which state schools have the largest following, I wanted to find out which program has the most specialty license plates in the Tampa Bay area.

    The answer was surprisingly easy to find: Florida.

    Our four local counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando) had 36,722 specialty plates in January for either UF, Florida State, USF, Miami and UCF. Here's the breakdown, thanks to the state's really easy-to-use database:

    UF: 14,416 plates (39 percent)
    USF: 9,935 plates (27 percent)
    FSU: 9,718 plates (26 percent)
    Miami: 1,403 plates (4 percent)
    UCF: 1,250 plates (3 percent)...

  12. Florida Gators battling injury bug entering pivotal SEC basketball week

    Blog

    It's weird to say, given Florida's eight-game winning streak, but this pivotal week of men's basketball comes at an unfortunate time for the Gators.

    No. 15 UF enters Tuesday's home game against No. 21 South Carolina and Saturday's game at No. 13 Kentucky still reeling from the season-ending knee injury to center John Egbunu. The injury list also includes leading scorer Canyon Barry, who will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a rolled ankle....

    Leading scorer Canyon Barry will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a rolled ankle.
  13. Week 11 Heisman and record watches

    College

    Heisman Watch

    5. Texas RB D'Onta Foreman: Rushing for 591 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games warrants a spot in the top five.

    4. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: Accounted for as many touchdowns last week (three) as he had incompletions. Will be banged-up when he faces Pitt this week.

    3. Washington QB Jake Browning: Six TD passes last week and has College GameDay in town Saturday for a showdown with much-improved USC. ...

    LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 05: D'Onta Foreman #33 of the Texas Longhorns breaks the tackle of Paul Banks III #28 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the game on November 5, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 45-37. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) 678468059
  14. Wondering about freshman quarterbacks under Jim McElwain? Meet Rob Compson

    Blog

    If history is the best indication of the future, then one of the most important characters for the Florida Gators' game Saturday against South Carolina involves a stiff quarterback you've never heard of from Montana State.

    Hang with me.

    UF coach Jim McElwain has no problem burning a quarterback's redshirt with three games left in the regular season. That means Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks could start this week against the Gamecocks, with starter Luke Del Rio (shoulder) out....

  15. Del Rio has company on Gators' injury list

    College

    GAINESVILLE — Quarterback Luke Del Rio isn't the only injured starter that No. 22 Florida will be without Saturday against South Carolina.

    Linebacker Alex Anzalone will be sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair a broken arm, coach Jim McElwain said. UF's other top linebacker, Jarrad Davis, will likely be out, too, after apparently aggravating an ankle injury he sustained against Missouri on Oct, 15....