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Sports chatter: Pastor shepherds a nation

What we're hearing: 27-year-old racecar driver won Spanish Grand Prix, a first for a Venezuelan.
Pastor MaldonadoEnlarge
Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado celebrates at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2012, near Barcelona after winning the Spanish Grand Prix. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
Is there anything Pastor Maldonado can’t do?

The 27-year-old Formula One racecar driver won the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday. As his Williams team celebrated, a fire broke out in the garage, hurting 16 people.

With smoke billowing, Maldonado carried his 12-year-old cousin, who had a cast on a broken foot, to safety piggyback style.

If that wasn’t enough, he appears to be carrying an entire nation on his shoulders, too.

His native Venezuela, about to enter a bitter presidential election, put the politics to rest after Maldonado’s first F1 win, and the first for a Venezuelan.

Revelers filled the streets in celebration, carrying banners as drivers honked their car horns. Newspapers immortalized the victory on front pages with headlines such as, “He has united the nation with his triumph in Spain,” Reuters reported.  

President Hugo Chavez used Twitter to praise the victory. “I said so: Our Pastor Maldonado won, making history. Bravo Pastor! Congratulations to you and all your fighting team! We shall overcome!”

Maldonado has appeared at Chavez functions in the past, and the state-run oil company PDVSA bankrolls both Chavez and Maldonado.

Want to know:
Alex Rodriguez had to play a little defense on Sunday when making a routine assist for the New York Yankees.

The Major League Baseball team honored Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey and her bomb-sniffing dog, Sgt. Rex, on Sunday before playing the Seattle Mariners.

A-Rod presented Leavey – who completed 100 missions in Iraq with Rex – a heart-shaped gold pendant with “Rex” inscribed on it.

But not before Rex stepped in front of Leavey, forcing A-Rod to demonstrate some quick feet of his own and jump back away from the dog (it had a muzzle on).

You can understand his protective instincts; Leavey and Rex endured many hours of physical therapy together after a roadside bomb injured them both in 2004, The Associated Press reported.

The Yankees’ president, Randy Levine and wife Mindy, heard her story and invited her to a game now that both are officially retired from the military.

“This dog has saved my life,” she said.

Dull but important:
Mario Gutierrez celebrated his Kentucky Derby victory with his adopted city of Vancouver on Sunday ahead of the Preakness Stakes this weekend.

Hundreds of horseracing fans applauded as the Veracruz, Mexico, native arrived at Hastings Racetrack for a ceremony.

The 25-year-old Gutierrez raced for six years in Vancouver before getting his big break south of the border.

He quickly parlayed that into a spot in the Kentucky Derby, nipping favorite Bodemeister at the wire aboard I’ll Have Another.

Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another are odds-on favorites to win the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

The jockey said he’s confident in himself, and the horse.

“Since the first time I rode him, I just knew he was special, it was like something – I don’t know how to describe it – but I knew he was something special.”

Just because:
Manchester City defied the odds by winning the English Premier League championship on Sunday, and it's not sitting well with some people.

The squad scored two extra-time goals to prevail 3-2 over Queen’s Park Rangers. City earned the league title over crosstown rival Manchester United based on goal difference.

It is City’s first championship in 44 years, and left United and its fans stunned. Staff members were setting up banners that read “Premier League Champions 2011-12” when news broke of City’s unlikely victory.

It seems United – with its decades of triumphs – is still smarting.

Although he tried to congratulate them for the win, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t help but take one last jab at City.

“They can go on as much as they like – that’s what you would expect – but the history of our club stands us aside,” Ferguson said, according to The Telegraph. “We don’t need to worry about that. I think we have a rich history, better than anyone, and it’ll take them a century to get to our level of history.”

Strange but true:
Roger Federer proved tennis careers don’t end at 30. Will Smith proved there's no limits to cross-promotional opportunity.

Federer, the former No. 1 player in the world, defeated a rising star in Tomas Berdych to win the Madrid Open on Sunday in Spain.

The Swiss Mister vaulted over Rafael Nadal, and is now nipping at the heels of top-ranked Novak Djokovic, in the world rankings. Both Nadal and Djokovic lost early on the blue clay courts, threatening all the while to skip the tournament next year if they don’t change the color back to red.

It didn’t bother Federer, who lost the first set Sunday before rebounding to win the next two.

After holding the oddly shaped Tiriac trophy aloft, his friend, actor Will Smith, appeared on court to give Federer one of his suits – in a giant frame – from the new movie Men in Black III.

“I have a very special present,” Smith said. “This is my suit from my latest movie, ‘Men in Black III,’ from me, to you, congratulations.”

When he does retire, Roger’s garage is going to be full of some really great junk.

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