NASCAR changes qualifying
NASCAR overhauled its qualifying process Wednesday, switching to a knockout format similar to Formula One and IndyCar.
Drivers and track owners applauded the change, saying it will bring excitement to what had been a somewhat monotonous and often meaningless event.
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The new format will not be used for the Daytona 500, non-points events in the Sprint Cup Series and the Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. NASCAR will use three rounds of qualifying at tracks 1¼ miles in length or larger. The entire field will have 25 minutes to post their fastest single lap and the top 24 advance to the second round. The second segment will last 10 minutes, and the fastest 12 will advance to a final, five-minute round. At tracks smaller than 1¼ miles, qualifying will be in two segments. The first will be 30 minutes, with the top 12 advancing to a 10-minute final session.
Cal hires defensive coordinator
Art Kaufman was hired as California’s defensive coordinator on coach Sonny Dykes’ staff. Kaufman was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Cincinnati last season.
Kaufman has developed some of the nation’s leading defenses during a 32-year collegiate career, including 12 years as a defensive coordinator. He also worked at North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas Tech.
The Golden Bears last season allowed the second-most points in the FBS, giving up 45.9 per game on the way to a 1-11 record. They also allowed the most yards passing and second-most total yards in major-college football.
Florida State sophomore quarterback Jacob Coker was released from his scholarship and is expected to transfer, possibly to Alabama. Coker is a native of Alabama and reportedly was visited this week by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
One more venue ready
Brazilian organizers have completed another World Cup stadium. Yet there was little reason to celebrate amid doubts about when or even if the remaining five venues will be ready in time for soccer’s showcase tournament in June.
The Arena das Dunas in the northeastern city of Natal was inaugurated in front of a few thousand people. The event came a day after organizers admitted there is a serious risk the southern city of Curitiba might be dropped from the tournament because of lagging stadium construction.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are soccer’s biggest moneymakers for the fifth straight year, and Manchester United lost its place among the top three biggest-earning clubs for the first time.
United, which is enduring a lackluster season under new manager David Moyes, dropped to fourth behind European champion Bayern Munich. The biggest growth was at Paris Saint-Germain, which went from 10th to fifth as the club’s global profile was enhanced by David Beckham’s four-month spell with the title-winning team.
Manchester United hit another low, losing its League Cup semifinal to Sunderland on penalty kicks. Sunderland advanced to a major final for the first time in 22 years and will play Manchester City at Wembley on March 2.
In Spain, Lionel Messi marked his 400th game for Barcelona with a master class of passing, setting up four goals in a 4-1 win over Levante in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal.
In Italy, Udinese rallied to win 2-1 at AC Milan and reach the Italian Cup semifinals.
U.S. names ski jump team
World champion Lindsey Van was nominated to the United States team headed to the Sochi Games. Van joins Olympic Trials winner Jessica Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson on the team that will debut the sport in Sochi. The men’s team includes first-time Olympian Nick Fairall, who won the Olympic Trials, as well as Nick Alexander, Peter Frenette and Anders Johnson.
Armstrong may get reprieve
The new president of cycling’s world body said Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban for doping could be reduced if he provides information that assists other doping investigations.
Brian Cookson became UCI president in September and established the Cycling Independent Reform Commission that will examine the history of doping in professional cycling and probe allegations the UCI conspired to cover up doping activity.
• The Nashville Predators swapped defensemen with the Rangers, sending right-handed shooter Kevin Klein to New York in exchange for a lefty in Michael Del Zotto.
• Shaun White is out again for the Winter X Games. The 13-time X Games snowboarding titlist decided against competing this week as he prepares for the Olympics.
• The WNBA All-Star Game will be held in Phoenix this summer for the second time. The game on July 19 will be played at US Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Mercury, and televised by ESPN.
• George Coetzee of South Africa needed just 21 putts to shoot an 8-under-par 64 for a one-shot lead on the opening day of the Qatar Masters in Doha.
• Three of golf’s prominent organizations have created the Latin America Amateur Championship, giving amateurs from 27 countries a shot at playing in the Masters and qualifying for golf’s two oldest championships: the U.S. Open and the British Open. The inaugural event will be next January in Argentina. It follows the model of the Asia-Pacific Amateur.
• A sparkling performance by Japan’s Takahito Mura in the men’s short program gave him the lead in the Four Continents figure skating championships in Taipei, Taiwan. Richard Dornbush of the United States was second.
Seattle Times news services