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Feb. 17, 2013 at 11:00 PM
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Patrick wins Daytona pole position

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Danica Patrick made NASCAR history Sunday, becoming the first female driver to win a pole position for a race in the circuit's top series.

Patrick logged the fastest lap during qualifying for the Daytona 500, one day after recording the quickest lap overall in practice.

Her qualifying lap of 196.434 mph (45.816 seconds) on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway track guaranteed her the top starting position for the Feb. 24 season opener of the Sprint Cup Series.

This year's Daytona will mark the rookie's 11th career Sprint Cup start, following 10 in 2012.

Sharing the front row with Patrick will be three-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon, who completed a lap of 196.292 mph (45.850 secs.).

The remainder of the Daytona starters will be determined Thursday during twin qualifying races.

Galaxy's Donovan back in late March

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Los Angeles Galaxy star forward Landon Donovan will rejoin the team in late March, General Manager and Head Coach Bruce Arena said Sunday.

Donovan -- that Galaxy's all-time scoring leader with 92 goals -- helped lead Los Angeles to a second consecutive and fourth overall MLS Cup last year.

He was granted an extended leave of absence afterward, skipping U.S. national appearances in the meantime while recovering from a grueling schedule in recent years.

Arena said Donovan has agreed to rejoin the team in late March, meaning he will miss the squad's first three regular season matches.

"After a series of collaborative discussions between Landon, his representative and our key club leaders, we have agreed to allow Landon to remain on an extended leave of absence and return to training with the team during the final week of March," Arena said."We understand this arrangement is not ideal, but we are confident it will allow Landon the time he needs to be both mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season."

Nadal is back with Brazil Open victory

SAO PAULO, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal recorded his first victory since last year's French Open Sunday, besting David Nalbandian for the Brazil Open title.

Nadal, who had been sidelined for seven months while recuperating from a knee injury, came close to pulling out a victory last week in Vina del Mar in his return from the layoff, but fell to Horacio Zeballos in the final.

This week in Sao Paolo, however, the Spanish superstar proved he's all the way back from the injury, dispatching is Argentinian opponent 6-2, 6-3 for his 51st career title.

It marked the second time Nadal won in Brazil, but his first since 2005.

It was also his 37th career championship on clay surfaces, behind only Thomas Muster (40) and Guillermo Vilas (45) on the all-time list.

Nalbandian, meanwhile, fell to 11-13 all-time in finals and 2-5 against Nadal in his first meeting with him since 2007.

Merrick edges Beljan in Calif. playoff

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- John Merrick posted a par on the second playoff hole Sunday, edging Charlie Beljan at the Northern Trust Open for his first career PGA Tour victory.

Beljan forced a playoff when he drained a clutch birdie putt on the final regulation hole to tie Merrick at 11-under 73 after 36 holes. He sank another tricky putt on the first extra hole to extend the playoff but his luck ran out on the second playoff hole at the par-4 10th.

He yanked his drive to the left and then missed a 10-foot putt for par. Merrick tapped in for par to take the title.

Merrick -- a native of nearby Long Beach, Calif. -- carded a 2-under 69 in the final round while Beljan finished with a 4-under 67.

Third-round leader and defending champion Bill Haas stumbled to a 73 Sunday to fall out of contention.

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