NASCAR sets testing ban that includes Daytona 500
NASCAR announced a new rules package Tuesday that will ban all private testing in 2015, including the annual Daytona 500 test, and levy the stiffest penalty possible on any team caught conducting its own sessions.
The only testing allowed next season will be sessions conducted by NASCAR or Goodyear. Any team caught testing on its own will receive a P6 penalty, the highest on NASCAR's new punishment scale. It carries a loss of 150 points, a minimum $150,000 fine and a six-week suspension for the crew chief and other crew members.
There didn't seem to be many objections to the testing ban throughout the industry.
"It's good financially for everyone, most importantly the lower funded teams who maybe don't have the funds to go test," said Brian Pattie, crew chief for Clint Bowyer. "Saving money across the board is beneficial for every team."
Among other changes to the rules package are updated qualifying formats, including at the Daytona 500. The front row will now be set through group qualifying instead of the traditional single-car runs. The rest of the field will be set by a pair of qualifying races later in Speedweeks.
NASCAR is also reducing engine horsepower through a tapered spacer from 850 to 725, and cutting the rear spoiler from 8 inches high to 6 inches. Changes will take about 300 pounds of downforce off of the car.
The horsepower reduction should slow cars from 5-7 mph and is aimed to create more passing through the field over the course of a long green-flag run.
Pattie felt it was a step in the right direction.
"If the racing is better, that means it's better for the fans which in turn makes it better for all of us," he said.
Other changes announced Tuesday are that NASCAR will also now use rain tires in the Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The rain tires are already used in the lower Nationwide and Truck Series races on road courses, to positive fan feedback.
■ A grand jury in upstate New York reportedly began hearing testimony Tuesday in the case of a fatal incident involving NASCAR's Tony Stewart at a sprint-car race.
The grand jury's proceedings began a week after Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said he would submit evidence in the case gathered by the county sheriff to the panel, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle reported.
The grand jury would decide whether Stewart should face any criminal charges.
Stewart's car struck and killed a fellow driver, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., while Ward was on foot during a non-NASCAR, sprint-car race at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park dirt track Aug. 9.
The drivers were racing side-by-side when Ward's car crashed into an outside fence. Ward then climbed from his car, walked on the track and was hit as Stewart circled back around.
Another driver in the race, Chuck Hebing, confirmed that he was called to testify about the incident before the grand jury but declined to say more, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Neither Tantillo nor Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero has disclosed any details about what the investigation found, and Stewart also has not commented publicly on what happened.
Grand jury proceedings are secret so it's not known how long it will take for the panel to render a decision.
Harrison ends retirement to re-join Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin called the decision to sign James Harrison "simple and easy."
Figuring out how — and just as important when — to use the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker, well, that part is a little trickier.
The Steelers brought the 36-year-old Harrison out of retirement on Tuesday to give an injury depleted group some needed depth and a locker room in need of some intensity an added jolt.
Harrison, who seemed to end his 12-year NFL career during an impromptu news conference Sept. 5, will provide plenty of both. How quickly he sees the field, however, remains uncertain.
"We need to see what he is capable of doing before we etch out any roles for him or others," Tomlin said Tuesday.
The Steelers (2-1) reached out to Harrison after young linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier went down in Sunday night's 37-19 win at Carolina. Jones underwent surgery Tuesday for a broken wrist. Shazier's sprained right knee likely won't keep him out as long, though Tomlin ruled out the rookie for this week's game against Tampa Bay (0-3).
Enter Harrison, whom the Steelers released in the spring of 2013 after he declined to take a pay cut. The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year eventually signed with Cincinnati, where he played in a diminished role as the Bengals won the AFC North. He finished with two sacks and an interception in 15 games before getting cut in March.
He remained in training throughout the preseason but couldn't find work and signed a one-day contract with Pittsburgh on Sept. 5 so he could retire a Steeler.
■ Coach Rex Ryan fully supported a struggling Geno Smith, saying he's "our quarterback" and the New York Jets believe in him. Smith had a rough night Monday in a 24-19 loss to the Chicago Bears, having one of his two interceptions returned for a touchdown and nearly having a few others picked off.
■ Panthers All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert will miss at least eight games with a hairline fracture in his left leg. The bruising fullback was injured on a tackle involving ex-Panthers safety Mike Mitchell in Carolina's 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
■ The Denver Broncos voted former Boyle County and Kentucky star Jacob Tamme to be their union representative.
Minor league baseball
Louisville Bats getting new majority owners
The Louisville Bats announced the pending majority sale of their Triple-A baseball club to Manhattan Capital Sports Acquisition LLC. The local owners of the Bats, affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, will remain as partners.
MC Sports also owns the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods and the Triple-A Reno Aces.
Bird first 4-time player on U.S. roster
Sue Bird became the first American player to make four world championship teams when USA Basketball announced the roster on Tuesday. Bird won gold medals in 2002 and 2010 and a bronze medal in 2006.
Joining her on the final roster are veterans former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus.
Brittney Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims and Breanna Stewart will make their first appearance at the world championship, which begins Saturday in Istanbul.
The last word
The question was about Tiger Woods. The answer turned into an anecdote on Phil Mickelson. Woods was asked last week what he will not miss about the Ryder Cup, and he mentioned the jokes and pranks that Matt Kuchar plays on his teammates. Kuchar was asked for an example, and turned it around on Mickelson. Kuchar said:
"The greatest thing I witnessed is when Phil Mickelson throws down the ultimate gauntlet when he doesn't have a comeback to whatever you've said. He just says, 'Well, I've won so many majors, (chew) on that. He can only say that if Tiger is not around. He kind of has to look over both shoulders and make sure, because then Tiger gives him his number."
Mickelson has won five majors. Woods has won 14.