Kansas has scheduled a news conference Monday at Allen Fieldhouse with freshman star Andrew Wiggins and coach Bill Self.Wiggins has already said he plans to enter the NBA draft, though Kansas would not say what the news will be. The 6-foot-8 Wiggins led Kansas in scoring at 17.1 points per game and averaged 5.9 rebounds. The Canadian was the Big 12 freshman of the year and a first-team all-conference selection.Wiggins is expected to be one of the top picks in the draft.Fellow Kansas freshman Wayne Selden Jr. has already announced he will return to school. Freshman center Joel Embiid, who also has a chance to be the top overall pick, has yet to announce his plans.STATEN STAYING AT WVUWest Virginia junior guard Juwan Staten, a first-team all-Big 12 selection, has decided to return for his senior season, the team announced.Staten, who averaged 18.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds during the 2013-14 season, said he wants to help the Mountaineers return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. WVU was bounced by Georgetown in the first round of the NIT.”It has always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA and a dream of mine to hear my name called as a lottery pick in the NBA draft,” Staten said in a statement. “I believe everything happens for a reason and I have a good feeling about playing my senior season at WVU.”Staten became the first player in school history with 500 points, 150 rebounds and 150 assists in a season, demonstrating his immense value to the team.“His work ethic is second to none, and I know Juwan will put in the time in the practice facility in the offseason to improve his game even more,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said.RETIREMENT BEING PONDEREDCalifornia coach Mike Montgomery is scheduled to meet with athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday to let her know whether he plans to retire.Barbour, attending the NCAA women’s basketball Stanford Regional, confirmed Sunday they would meet in Berkeley to discuss the future.The Golden Bears lost Wednesday in the quarterfinal round of the NIT, 67-65 to SMU, to finish an up-and-down season at 21-14.The 67-year-old Montgomery, who coached Stanford for 18 years then two disappointing seasons as head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, has a 677-317 overall record in 32 years in college.He had reached a two-year contract extension in July 2012 to remain at the school through 2015-16. Ahead of the 2011-12 season, Montgomery disclosed he had bladder cancer and underwent surgery that left him cancer-free. Montgomery then led the Golden Bears to a 24-10 record that season, a runner-up finish in the Pac-12 Conference and a first-round loss to South Florida in the NCAA tournament.He also helped Cal capture its first league title in 50 years in 2010.At Stanford, Montgomery reached 12 NCAA tournaments with 10 straight second-round appearances and a trip to the 1998 Final Four. Montgomery is 130-73 in six seasons at Cal.Montgomery, whose career as a head coach began at Montana in 1978, coached many eventual NBA stars at both Stanford and Cal.The Cardinal won their first 26 games in Montgomery’s final year on The Farm in 2003-04 and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 with a 29-1 record. He had a 393-167 mark at Stanford and produced eight first-round draft picks. Montgomery’s son, John, just completed his third season as an assistant coach under his father after previously working as Cal’s director of basketball operations.ESPN first reported Montgomery’s pending decision.Contributors: Roger Kuznia and The Associated Press
The federal government is looking at how the University of Michigan responded to a reported violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy by a football player.The Detroit News reported Tuesday that the probe by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights began after federal officials received complaints related to the expulsion of kicker Brendan Gibbons, who is no longer enrolled. One of the complaints was filed last year and says the university didn’t investigate the 2009 incident. It also says the school’s grievance policy doesn’t fully comply with a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.Gibbons was expelled in December for violating the sexual misconduct policy. He has not been charged with a crime.University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the school will “fully cooperate” with the investigation.LEWD AND LASCIVIOUSFort Pierce Central High School (Fla.) football player Sharieff Inuka Rhaheed-Muhammad was arrested on a felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior after DNA tests showed that he fathered a baby with his 14-year-old cousin.Rhaheed-Muhammad, a 6-2, 200 pound linebacker, recently signed to play with Louisville in the fall.The girl became pregnant in late June after she and her family had visited Rhaheed-Muhammad in Fort Pierce, Fla.She told police that they had sex and it “just happened,” and that he did not force himself upon her.After the girl had an abortion in November, the family had the remains DNA-tested.In February, the results came back that Rhaheed-Muhammad had nearly a 100 percent chance of being the father of the child.He and his mother both refused to provide DNA samples until the police served a search warrant at Rhaheed-Muhammad’s high school.He was released on Tuesday from the St. Lucie Juvenile Detention Center, a police spokeswoman said.Louisville football head coach Bobby Petrino is “aware of the situation,” the University of Louisville said in a statement.They offered no additional comment on the matter.HURRICANE HOSPITALIZEDA redshirt freshman offensive lineman at the University of Miami was hospitalized after a team workout on Monday.Hunter Knighton, of Pottstown, Pa., was brought to University of Miami Hospital after the workout.Neither the school nor Knighton’s family has released details about his condition or what happened, but Knighton is unconscious, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday.The 6-6, 278-pound lineman did not play for the Hurricanes in 2013. He was redshirted after undergoing shoulder surgery.Knighton is not the first player to be hospitalized following a workout recently. Earlier this month, Ted Agu, a defensive end at California, collapsed and died after a conditioning workout.NEW POLLThe Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation announced Tuesday that they will have a weekly football poll during the upcoming season called the FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16 poll — in honor of the famous sportswriter.“We are proud to partner with the FWAA on the launch of the Grantland Rice Super 16 poll,” NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell said. “Objectivity represents a core value for both our organizations, and we hope that by combining the credibility of both our organizations that we’ll provide a fun reference point for fans to follow during the college football season.” Voters will consist of FWAA writers, College Football Hall of Famers and NFF board members — 26 from the FWAA with balanced geographical representation and 10 from the NFF that includes Hall of Famers, coaches and administrators.The poll will be released Sundays during the season with the final release Dec. 7, the day after the conference title games.Contributors: Ken Bradley, Kami Mattioli, The Associated Press
Blake Bortles has a better chance of getting drafted in the top five picks than Teddy Bridgewater.That’s the conclusion I’ve come to based upon their respective pro day performances because there’s nothing quite like seeing somebody in person. There just isn’t. No matter what aspect of life you’re talking about, the time spent in person trumps any other form of communication or evaluation.It’s nice to talk with your spouse and children on the phone or perhaps even Skype or FaceTime thanks to modern technology if you are on the road, but even those video calls pale in comparison to actually seeing them in the flesh.Same goes for business. You can have conference calls and online meetings but they don’t compare to the time spent across the desk or at a meal with someone.It’s probably even more pronounced during an evaluation process, the likes of which Bridgewater, Bortles, and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr are going through with their pro days this week. Former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel will have his highly anticipated throwing session next week.Think about the difference between a telephone interview and an in-person interview whether you are the employer or potential employee. It’s night and day, right? The in-person interview is much more valuable for both parties. Nobody would dispute that.That’s why I think Bridgewater is in trouble after struggling earlier this week at his pro day in Louisville. I don’t personally believe that one throwing session without shoulder pads and defenders should have a big impact on a player’s stock, but I think it will. It’s human nature.”The coaches and executives really like seeing them throw up close,” NFL Films guru Greg Cosell told me recently on my podcast. “It’s just a much more intimate setting than on film or even up in the press box. They can see how the ball comes out of their hands from five feet away.”That being the case, do you really think that new Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien is going to pull the trigger on Bridgewater with the No. 1 overall pick if he was less than impressed with how Teddy threw the football the one time he has seen him throw in person? I don’t either. That would go against O’Brien’s, or any coach for that matter, gut instincts to select a guy who didn’t perform well up close and personal.It doesn’t seem like a guy throwing one time in a controlled setting should have much of an impact when you can easily watch them play literally dozens of actual college football games on tape, but it does.It just does. It’s human nature.VIDEO: More from Tucker
Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams had to wear his hat after the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. Williams, who went to the University of Memphis, is a Grizzlies fan. A very confident Grizzlies fan, at that. We’ll let his tweets tell you the story of the night he learned that a promise made on Twitter is still a promise.I’ve had this game marked on my calendar all year @memgrizz vs @bobcats I will be there repping my team!#GRIZZNATION pic.twitter.com/fat2pv3Nds— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 22, 2014Decisions decisions I got to find the winning combination! #GRIZZNATION pic.twitter.com/rfPsffZy20— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 22, 2014If the @bobcats win tonight I will personally walk to the team store and let a bobcats fan pick out a hat for me to buy and wear home!— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 22, 2014But I know we won’t lose so @memgrizz just know I will be rocking my grizz Gear home smiling lol— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 22, 2014Three-and-a-half hours later, the Bobcats beat Williams’ Grizz squad 92-89.Headed to the team store— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 23, 2014I’m a man of my word and this guy chose a woman’s hat and I purchased him one as well until we meet again cats fans pic.twitter.com/oL2xaIszjl— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 23, 2014
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is getting a chance to play football again.Wilson announced on his Instagram account on Monday that he will return for the 2014 season. School officials confirmed Wilson has been cleared to participate in spring ball, but he will be limited to non-contact drills as a precautionary measure. Wilson’s sophomore season was cut short after the team discovered a pre-existing medical condition during a concussion diagnosis in mid-November.The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Wilson must undergo further exams as doctors continue to monitor his condition to make sure there is no serious health risk before the 2014 season.Wilson is expected to regain his spot as Utah’s starting QB. He has started 16 games over two seasons.He completed 133 of 237 passes for 1,827 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions for the Utes before a concussion sidelined him following a 20-19 loss to Arizona State on Nov. 9.An initial scan for the concussion after that game turned up evidence of a pre-existing head trauma and a follow-up angiogram confirmed the trauma to an intracranial artery. Utah then lost two of its final three games to finish 5-7 and fail to reach a bowl game for a second straight season. Wilson struggled with other injuries prior to his season-ending head injury. He missed parts of games against Southern California and Arizona with an injury to his throwing hand. It affected Wilson’s consistency late in the season.When Wilson returns to action, he will be working with a third offensive coordinator in his third season at Utah.Former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen came aboard as the team’s new offensive coordinator in January, replacing co-coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson. Erickson took a new role as Utah’s running backs coach. Johnson joined the staff at Mississippi State as a quarterback coach.
The chances seem slim the Denver Broncos will agree on the right price to keep pending free-agent wide receiver Eric Decker. While that means Peyton Manning is headed toward losing one of his favorite targets, Decker could be joining another top AFC quarterback soon.Denver television station CBS4 (KCNC-TV) reported the Indianapolis Colts are among the teams interested in signing Decker. Andrew Luck has a veteran No. 1 (Reggie Wayne) and a dynamic ace slot man (T.Y. Hilton), but could use a No. 2 with speed and good hands. Given Wayne, coming off a torn ACL, is more a possession type at the latter stages of his career, the 26-year-old Decker would give Luck a needed big playmaker outside.The Colts have proved that even though they are a young team at heart, they are willing to be aggressive in getting complementary veterans on the open market. According to OvertheCap.com, they are expected to have almost $38 million under the projected salary cap for 2014.In addition to wideout, the Colts could use help on the offensive line and at linebacker. They also will need to upgrade without the benefit of a first-round pick in May’s draft.COWBOYS NEED TO KEEP WAREWe’re about to find out how much the Dallas Cowboys want to make sure DeMarcus Ware remains a Dallas Cowboy for life. The venerable 31-year-old pass rusher won’t be retained at his current $12.25 million salary for a team looking at being $21 million over the cap.Riddled with injury in 2013, Ware is coming off a bad statistical season while making the transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end. That leaves owner and general manager Jerry Jones balancing his heart with his wallet. Let Ware go, and there’s the potential of him signing with a rival team such as Philadelphia. Keep Ware, and the cap savings of $7.4 million won’t happen.The Cowboys, however, can tap into a solution Jones has found for other such veterans: Restructure base salary to help the team both now and later. That’s the best, and smartest option here.Ware didn’t get a chance to show his entire wares in Monte Kiffin’s scheme. With Rod Marinelli stepping in with the same Tampa 2 philosophy, trying to restore a front-four pass rush is crucial to Dallas’ short-term playoff chances. You can never have enough pass rushers, and even at his age, the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader will be attractive to other teams.Given the Cowboys’ challenge of already trying to re-sign free-agent defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, Ware can offer them the out of an adjusted salary they should work to take. He may no longer be the same dominant edge player, but that still makes him better than most. That’s before getting to his leadership on the field and presence in the locker room.Jones is willing to make the tough cut this time. But there’s no reason he should.HALL OF FAME GAME ANNOUNCEDThe Buffalo Bills and New York Giants will play the first game of the 2014 NFL season. The league announced they will be the opponents in the annual Pro Football Hall of Game to open the preseason schedule on Sunday night, August 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).As usual, the game in Canton, Ohio’s Fawcett Stadium is tied to the Hall of Fame inductions that weekend. The Bills are represented in the 2014 class by wide receiver Andre Reed, while defensive end Michael Strahan will be enshrined for the Giants.For both teams, it means an extra exhibition game. It’s a tongue-twisting matchup of starting quarterbacks bound to make cameo appearances, Eli Manning and EJ Manuel. If you’re keeping score at home, that means we are 157 days away from live NFL football. Just try to be patient.COOPER, KELCE SIGN NEW DEALSThe Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to a five-year contract with wide receiver Riley Cooper and a seven-year deal with center Jason Kelce.Cooper would’ve become a free agent next month after a breakout season in which he set career highs in receptions (47), yards receiving (835) and touchdowns (eight). Kelce was signed through 2016, and the new deal adds four years to his contract. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Eagles lead the NFL in rushing while setting a franchise record for points (442).The moves were announced Thursday, a day after All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters signed a new five-year contract.The Eagles were 10-6 and won the NFC East title in Chip Kelly’s first season as coach after going 4-12 in 2012.BEARS AGREE TO DEAL WITH GARZAThe Chicago Bears say they have agreed to a one-year contract with center Roberto Garza.The Bears had expressed a desire to bring him back, and they announced the move on Thursday.Garza, who turns 35 in March, was the lone holdover on a line that featured four new starters last season. He has appeared in 194 games and made 164 starts over 13 seasons with the Bears and Atlanta Falcons.REDSKINS RE-SIGN BAKERThe Washington Redskins have re-signed defensive lineman Chris Baker to a three-year contract with $12 million.The deal announced Thursday includes $4 million of guaranteed money.Baker has spent two seasons with the Redskins, playing in 29 games. He started the final three games last season after Stephen Bowen was sidelined with a knee injury.Baker has played both tackle and end on the defensive line, and he’ll be a possible contender for a regular starting job at end in the team’s 3-4 alignment under new coach Jay Gruden, especially with both Bowen and Adam Carriker recovering from major injuries.The 26-year-old Baker went undrafted out of Hampton. He played with Denver and Miami before joining the Redskins in 2012.SMITH MIFFED AT PANTHERSSteve Smith’s not feeling the love.The Carolina Panthers and the veteran receiver appear to be on the verge of a breakup, and Smith is the one who’ll have to pick up the pieces of a broken heart.The hints aren’t so subtle, either. At the NFL Combine, general manager Dave Gettleman only went this far when asked about the 35-year-old Smith: “Steve’s had a great career, and the bottom line is, it’s part of the evaluation process.”Ron Rivera doled out the same dose of thank you for your services: “A lot of it will have to do with what our situation and circumstances are going to be. I think as we go forward, just what the role is going to be we’ll see.”It all has thrown Smith, a 13-year veteran, for a loop. More pointedly, it has annoyed him at best.“(I) would have wished that I would have been afforded the opportunity to be given a heads up by our GM and also with coach Rivera,” he said on WBT-AM in Charlotte, N.C. “When I did my exit meeting, no one spoke to me about it in that manner, so the unfortunate part of it is I had to hear second hand.”Maybe it’s not a breakup, but the Panthers obviously need a new leading man. Smith could take a pay cut, retire or play elsewhere. The priority is creating cap room to get a long-term extension for Cam Newton and making a call on unrestricted free agent, Greg Hardy.Where does Smith fit into all of that?“We have to read into things and we try not to, but when we speak of an individual’s career in the past tense, I think ultimately it would suggest that a team is moving on, and that’s all I can do.”WARRANTS ISSUED FOR SHARPERNew Orleans police have issued an arrest warrant for former Saints player Darren Sharper, accused of raping two women there last year, according to NOLA.com.The alleged rapes occurred on Sept. 23, 2013, and an acquaintance of Sharper’s, 26-year-old Erik Nunez, is believed to have been involved and is also wanted on two counts of aggravated rape.Sharper, 38, pleaded not guilty last week to separate charges in Los Angeles. He is charged with drugging four women and raping two of them. His bail has been set at $1 million. Also last week, it was revealed that Sharper is under investigation in Miami Beach for alleged sexual battery. He is also being investigated in Arizona and Nevada.According to NOLA.com, the cases in Louisiana are still being investigated. A conviction of aggravated rape in Louisiana carries a mandatory life sentence without parole.As the alarming allegations continue to surface, former teammates and coaches of Sharper are expressing utter shock.Said one anonymous teammate to NOLA: “I’m shocked and disgusted by it. I’m going to wait until the whole thing plays out before I completely judge him.”But this would be one hell of a conspiracy for that many allegations to pop up across (five) states in such a tight window of time. I just never heard of something like that. I’m just disgusted by it.”Another teammate said that Sharper was a known “womanizer” but no one suspected anything that would suggest he is an alleged serial rapist. Said another former teammate: “Sex addiction is one thing. (Accused of) being a f-ing serial rapist is whole different galaxy. I’m pretty torn up about it all. …”You almost don’t want to see how this thing ends up. I’m pretty sure I know how it’s going to end up.”Contributors: Rana L. Cash, Vinnie Iyer, The Associated Press
This offseason for Anquan Boldin is officially better than last year’s. The veteran wide receiver announced on his Twitter account Monday afternoon that he has re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers ..@49ers fans, I wanted to be the first to tell you I’m returning to San Francisco – http://t.co/XsGmyZRTSE pic.twitter.com/SgOtlLPTH7— Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) March 3, 2014Comcast SportsNet Bay Area reported that Boldin, 33, signed a two-year deal . A little less than a year ago, Boldin was coming off his first Super Bowl win, with the Baltimore Ravens, but became a salary-cap casualty when the Ravens traded him to the 49ers—the team they had just beaten in the Super Bowl—for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin responded with 85 catches for 1,179 yards, his best in both categories since the 2009 season with Arizona. The 49ers reached the NFC championship game before losing to Seattle. The Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The 49ers made keeping Boldin a high priority and now are expected to look for a speed receiver to match with Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.
Every MLS offseason we find ourselves watching multiple teams undergoing dramatic roster overhauls, with the hope being that the right mix of new talent can help either reach the playoffs or go further in the playoffs.The past MLS offseason has seen arguably as busy a time as ever for personnel changes, with a wealth of teams in both conferences boosting their squads with foreign signings, Homegrown Player additions and MLS trades. Measuring the success of team’s offeseasons isn’t based solely on the players who come in. Figuring out which teams came away with net overall gains is the key because while many teams loaded up with new players, some of those teams did so at the expense of having to shed previously established talent.Good roster building isn’t just about big-money signings, but also smart moves that land bargains and acquisitions that offer clear upgrades.So which teams have improved their rosters the most this offseason? Here is a breakdown of the 10 teams that have done the best job strengthening their squads:No team added the sort of firepower TFC did, with Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe coming on board. Throw in young Brazilian forward Gilberto, fullbacks Justin Morrow and Bradley Orr, and former MLS MVP Dwayne DeRosario, and you have a TFC team that looks very capable of securing the first playoff berth in club history.Though the team did part ways with Dwayne De Rosario, the sheer number of established veterans the club was able to bring in suggests D.C. could very well go from posting the fewest wins in league history to pushing for a playoff spot. A completely rebuilt defense led by Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke should help considerably, while attacking additions Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, coupled with veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud, should give D.C. a fighting chance at a postseason berth.The Union needed to overhaul their midfield, and John Hackworth did just that with the best collection of midfield talent brought in by any team in the league. Maurice Edu should help provide some sorely needed bite as well as improved passing, while Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana should help create more scoring chances for the Union attack. Throw in the best haul of the 2014 MLS Draft, including No. 1 overall pick Andre Blake, and the Union did very well to revamp their roster.Parting ways with former MLS MVP David Ferreira was a loss, but FC Dallas’ on-field and off-field additions have made this winter very much a positive one. The hiring of Oscar Pareja as head coach is one of the best moves of the offseason, while the team also addressed key needs at forward and defensive midfielder. Uruguayan striker David Texeira and Colombian forward Andres Escobar should help invigorate the FCD attack, while the acquisition of Hendry Thomas should give the Hoops some bite in midfield that was lacking last season. Throw in additions such as Brian ‘Cobi’ Span and Ryan Hollingshead and the FCD attack should have the depth to improve on last year’s goal totals.A team just two points away from the Supporters Shield probably doesn’t have to do much to its roster, but the Timbers did enjoy a very productive offseason, landing a pair of Argentines to help address key needs. Gaston Fernandez is the type of attacking talent who could help the Timbers challenge for best offense in MLS, while central defender Norberto Papparatto is seen as the ideal combination of size and passing touch. Throw in the draft-day steal of Schillo Tshuma and the pick-ups of Steve Zakuani and Jorge Flores, and the Timbers have done well to bolster an already potent squad.LA lost Sean Franklin and loaned away Jose Villarreal, but re-stocked the forward position with Rob Friend and Samuel, while also adding a quality wing option in Swede Stefan Ishizaki.The Sounders parted ways with Eddie Johnson, Mauro Rosales, Shalrie Joseph, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Michael Gspurning, and Patrick Ianni, but brought in Chad Marshall, Stefan Frei, Kenny Cooper, Jalil Anibaba, and Homegrown Player signings Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar. Losing Eddie Gaven to retirement was a big blow, but new head coach Gregg Berhalter has done an excellent job of re-tooling the defense, trading away Chad Marshall and adding a formidable central defense pairing in Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez. New goalkeeper Steve Clark remains a question mark, but if he shines, the Crew could definitely be in the playoff mix.The Goats had nowhere to go but up, but given the team’s poor track record of acquisitions, this winter has been a considerable success by comparison. Picking up Mauro Rosales and Andrew Jean-Baptiste were smart moves within MLS, while the signing of Adolfo ‘Bofo’ Bautista just might surprise people. English forward Luke Moore is also on his way, giving the Goats some serious attacking firepower heading into 2014.Quietly put together some quality additions while keeping the nucleus together. French midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi should help the attack, as should the pick-ups of Billy Schuler and Homegrown Player signing Tommy Thompson. Offset the departures of Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour with the shrewd pick-up of Brandon Barklage. Adding veteran Atiba Harris should also help the Earthquakes make up for the departure of Rafael Baca.
Landon Cassill still owns the firesuit with the Klondike logos on it.He’s never worn it, but it serves as a symbol of what might have been — a year he thought he would spend in a full-season sponsored ride for JR Motorsports in NASCAR’s top development series. Instead, Cassill drove one race after the Klondike sponsorship went to other JRM drivers. Cassill made $225,000 that year under a driver development contract with Hendrick Motorsports. In reality, his career went nowhere.When Hendrick didn’t pick up his option after the 2009 season, when he barely raced and didn’t have a sponsor, a five-year development deal turned into three years of learning, a little bit of money in the bank and potential unfulfilled.That is the world of big-time NASCAR for development drivers in an age when sponsorship means everything. Cassill and Michael McDowell admit they have raced for free at times in NASCAR’s two top divisions just to gain experience, just to prove themselves. Josh Wise got so discouraged in the process that he pretty much took a year off from racing stock cars.Before the current crop of development drivers, Cassill, McDowell and Wise (along with Brad Keselowski) were expected to be the next generation of stars. Now in the five or six years since their development deals ended, they toil with underfunded teams, at times parking cars early in races just so they and their owners can make a bit of money. They still believe they could land a multiyear, full-time shot in Cup.“When I first started at Hendrick, I was given an incredible opportunity at a really young age and it’s not like I blew it,” said Cassill, still considered young at age 24. “Nothing went tragically wrong. The only thing that went tragically wrong was the economy. … It’s just a long road.“For me, the key is I have to stay in business. This is my business. As competitive as I am, I have to make decisions for my career that keep me in a racecar so that I can stay out there.”All three drivers had times when they couldn’t imagine this as their career path. Cassill, fresh from winning 20 Midwest short-track races at age 17 in 2006, landed that five-year development deal with Hendrick. McDowell, an accomplished sports-car racer, had a three-year deal with Michael Waltrip Racing that ended after one Cup season in 2008. Wise, who drove for Tony Stewart in sprint cars and at one time was a development driver for Dodge, also had a three-year deal with MWR that ended in 2008 after two seasons during which he barely raced for MWR at all.They all expected to be in the prime of their Cup careers by now. Instead, Cassill drives for Mike Hillman Racing, the 29-year-old McDowell for Leavine Family Racing and the 31-year-old Wise for Phil Parsons Racing. They hope to help make those underfunded teams more competitive or land a ride with an elite organization.“I like the journey of life,” Wise said. “I wouldn’t change anything at this point. … It’s a heck of a lot more exciting than just finishing my three-year development deal at Michael Waltrip Racing and ending up in a Cup car like the original plan.“It’s all good.”The journeyCassill certainly feels grateful for landing the development deal with Hendrick, which continued to pay for his various NASCAR licenses, paid for him to test and has helped with travel throughout the years.“I learned a lot of good things at Hendrick, and I had hard times at Hendrick, but I didn’t learn to suffer at Hendrick,” Cassill said. “I learned that elsewhere. The things that I had bad at Hendrick, or I thought were tough, … I think to myself now, I could blow right through those problems right now.“I could handle those problems like a champ, professionally, with maturity and overcome them now.”At 18, Cassill didn’t worry about sponsorship because he figured that Hendrick had people working on that for him. If he didn’t like a crew chief, he didn’t feel obligated to make the situation work — he figured they would just get him a new one.“I looked at a lot of those situations like a high school girlfriend, where it’s like, ‘We’re not getting along, yuck, I don’t like you anymore, I’m going to talk to somebody else,’” Cassill said. “As opposed to when you grow up and you realize how this stuff actually works, you need to treat those type of working relationships more like a marriage where we’re actually stuck together.“You’re here because the boss decided you were the best person for the job, and I’m here because the boss decided I’m the best person for the job. We both believe in the boss so we both should believe in each other. What taught me that, what made me realize that was when I really had to fight for my food.”Cassill’s fight is detailed in a deposition in a lawsuit he filed against BK Racing.McDowell and Wise understand the fight to survive, but they didn’t necessarily have that maturing process when they signed their development deals. They were young adults with development contracts, not a kid like Cassill. But they were also drivers without family money.McDowell, at age 23, had the benefit of having an investor. His sports-car team owner, Rob Finlay, bankrolled a season during which McDowell ran the full ARCA schedule, winning four races and finishing second in points in 2007.That landed him the three-year development deal at MWR, which wanted him to go Cup racing right away to fill the spot left open when David Reutimann slid into the seat vacated by Dale Jarrett five races into the 2008 season.“It probably wasn’t the ideal scenario for me to go from ARCA to Cup, but I wasn’t sitting there with an offer from three other teams to go race a truck or Nationwide car,” McDowell said. “Had I had that opportunity, I’m not sure I would have done it or not, but I definitely would have thought about the process a little bit differently.“I was looking at it as here’s my shot to get to the big time. But also when we originally sat down together, it was a long-term deal, it was a three-year deal and they knew they were going to miss races (with) a (relatively) new manufacturer and a new everything, so I felt like I had the potential to have longevity there.”After a season when he made 20 of 21 Cup races and had an average finish of 30th, McDowell found himself in limbo with no longevity. The UPS sponsorship for Reutimann left MWR for Roush Fenway Racing, and MWR partnered with JTG Daugherty Racing for a third team, leaving McDowell as the man without a ride and without a deal.For one season, he had a seven-figure income. But there’s the catch:“I have never made a million dollars ever in this sport,” McDowell said. “When I did at MWR, $900,000 of it went back to Finlay to pay for my ARCA deal.”Still, McDowell doesn’t look back at MWR as a flawed decision.“Essentially. I got a 10-million-dollar education,” McDowell said in reference to what it costs to run a Cup car. “(That’s the cost) if I had to find a sponsor to go run those Cup races I ran or learned what I learned that year getting my butt kicked every weekend. As a driver, that was critical for me just to figure out the sport, how difficult it is, what it takes.”McDowell found himself in scramble mode. He raced half a Nationwide season with JTG and was 11th in the standings when that team shut down. But he finished the season racing cars owned by Brian Keselowski and Randy MacDonald because a driver high in points gets season-ending bonus money.“I hopped … in any Nationwide car I could to keep my points up and just to stay in the game, and some of those you get paid and some of those you did it for free,” McDowell said. “With the purse fund for the driver, I was top 10 in points, so I was trying to keep that because at the end of the year, you get that purse money.“I was sort of bartering with that as the team would get to keep a small percentage if they ran me.”That led to his running a start-and-park car for Tommy Baldwin, which allowed him to show his ability to qualify for races. During his years of running start-and-parks, McDowell also spent one season (2010) driving for MacDonald in Nationwide — again for free.“The reason I did it is because I didn’t want to just start-and-park,” McDowell said. “I felt like that would allow me to potentially build something there but also race every weekend and stay sharp.“When you’re only doing a few laps a weekend and you’re not really racing because you can’t tear stuff up, you can get rusty. This was a way for me to race every weekend.”UnfulfilledThe desire to race nearly kept Wise from returning to NASCAR after his MWR development deal ended after just two seasons and virtually no races. In 2007, he ran 11 ARCA races and nine truck races for Waltrip. The next year, he ran 17 races with Fitz Motorsports on loan from MWR. And then his development deal ended one year early.“For me, I always grew up, it was results- and performance-based,” Wise said. “I knew if I won, if I did a good job, I’d progress and I’d get opportunities. I’d make decisions and try to progress my career.“When I got to Charlotte, the sponsorship and economy side of it was really hard for me to swallow. Why can’t I have a car like this other car in my shop? Because that car has 2 million dollars of funding and your car has $800,000. At the end of 2008, when everything kind of seized up, I was pretty much just burned out at that point. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the stock-car stuff anymore.”So Wise went back to sprint-car racing and won a few big events. And he was still unfulfilled.“I got to the end of that year and I was like, ‘Man, this was great and I’m having success here but I’ve already done this. I’m winning at tracks where I’ve already won,’” Wise said. “It left me at the end of ’09 of, do I want to just kind of stay here and keep doing this over and over every year for the rest of my life?“And I was left with, I need to go back to the NASCAR side and just try to rebuild from the ground up.”Wise started making calls and ended up with Specialty Racing, a Nationwide team with one car that Wise and one team member would work on during the week. They had four consecutive weeks of running 19th-24th, and at Darlington he battled side-by-side with JR Motorsports driver Steve Arpin. The next week, JR Motorsports called him and he began driving the races that Danica Patrick didn’t race in the No. 7 car. The team had the money from Go Daddy to run that car the full season and just needed someone to keep it in the points.That eventually led to his getting a start-and-park deal in a Cup car for team owner Larry Gunselman, which led to the 2012 and 2013 seasons at Front Row Motorsports, where he start-and-parked for one full year and then raced full events 20 times in 2013. He then moved to Phil Parsons Racing for 2014 to replace McDowell as the team has pledged to run full races all season.“It’s always been for me about just making the most of whatever opportunity it is, and I’ve just been fortunate enough to do that more times than not,” Wise said.Start and parkFor a driver in his early 20s, having to swallow pride and start-and-park was just a business decision for Cassill, who ran start-and-park cars under Gunselman in 2010 and 2011 as he tried to resurrect his career after the Hendrick release.“If I want to make a career as a racecar driver, there’s no time, there’s no room to sit down and say, ‘I’m too good for that,’” Cassill said.“If the only people that are calling you are the people that are start-and-parking, the people that need to get their cars in the race and you are sitting there saying, ‘No, I’m too good for that,’ you obviously are not because if the big teams had room for you or were willing to make room for you, they would.”Cassill, McDowell and Wise have the jobs they have now because they had enough talent to get cars into the race. McDowell has driven select Nationwide races for Joe Gibbs Racing by keeping his name out there.“I wrestled with it in the beginning because I never thought that would be what I would be doing,” McDowell said. “But at the same time, I’m like, I’m in the Cup Series, one of 43 guys.“If I can just make these races and keep showing my ability, then when the economy changes and teams are back on the hire instead of the fire, maybe I could be on the shiny side of it.”And they do get their fill of competition, just not on race day.“There’s times when you start-and-park, not that you dread coming to the racetrack, you just dread Sundays,” McDowell said. “Fridays are still a lot of fun because there is an adrenaline rush knowing that if you screw up, you’re going home. And if you do a good lap, you make the race.”In some instances, it also means making money. Some start-and-park teams pay only if a driver makes the race. But the drivers said missing a race didn’t impact them financially as much as it hurt their pride and stalled their career.“I don’t think it’s so much a pride thing as you have to balance and create some standards,” McDowell said. “If I’m going to be away from my family and not see them for five days to not make anything, then that’s not really a win for anybody.“But there’s times that you do it because you think it’s going to advance your career or it’s a great opportunity to do it.”And what happens when a driver builds a program from start-and-park to a successful program? The answer is unsettling, and McDowell can see it as he races against a Tommy Baldwin Racing car with Pilot J-sponsored driver Michael Annett.“When you go to a program and build it, you elevate it, you also are working yourself out of a job because you’ve got a guy … who has 4 or 5 million dollars and this is a competitive program now and now again you’re on the outside looking in,” McDowell said.“That’s what Dave Blaney did for TBR is built that program up and make it sellable and now that it’s sellable, he’s out and that’s the nature of the beast. That’s nobody’s fault.”Looking for sponsorsThat is just another kick in the face and one of the realities of racing — the best way to advance a career is to find sponsorship. These drivers know all about it.“I’ll be the first to admit — my biggest weakness is probably that I’m not a salesman, I’m not a talker,” Wise said. “I’m not someone who likes the spotlight. I love to drive racecars.“That desire and that love for that is enough to motivate me to contribute to the sponsor side of it and help build that side of it.”All of the drivers have people who help them find sponsors — McDowell went to the Leavine team, in part, because they have three sales people — and all do the most that they can to find someone with money to help build the program. Cassill said in working with a small team such as Mike Hillman Racing he has asked for his pay structure to be tied more to sponsorship than performance, figuring if the team has a sponsor, he has more responsibility.“I work hard on it (getting sponsors) and I’ve got people working on it and I get on calls a lot more,” Cassill said. “There’s a carrot out there. It’s in my best interest anyways, but now there is a direct benefit from it.“It puts the whole team on the same page because Hillman doesn’t need me to knock the right side off the car to finish in the top 20 so I can have a $5,000 bonus because it costs Hillman $5,000 every time I knock the right side off the car.”The futureIt sounds like a lot of work for Cassill, now in his fifth year of bouncing around the lowest-funded teams in Cup while having a mid-level Nationwide ride at JD Motorsports.He could go back and sell used cars for his father in Iowa. Instead, he pursues the goals he had in 2006 when he won all those short-track races.“I still love driving racecars,” Cassill said. “I’m still 24. I’m still getting jobs. That’s why (I do it). … I’m still valuable in the sport. Right now my value lies in these smaller teams. The big teams haven’t figured out where I’m valuable to them yet. I think they will.”But that’s not necessarily Cassill’s goal.“My goal right now is not about the greener grass,” Cassill said. “I don’t wake up every morning wishing one of the big teams will call me. That would put me in a tight spot.“As much as that would be a blessing, I’m with people right now that saved my career, people that are investing in their race team because they believe in me, they believe in what I can do.”Wise and McDowell remain very outgoing about their faith, and they have faith they can handle what comes. McDowell saw his performance in the JGR cars — he finished second last year at Mid-Ohio — and believes he can still run well for a Cup team.He drives his motorhome to and from the track and will soon see his family grow from two children to four with their own newborn as well as a child adopted from Honduras. McDowell is not about to give up on the dream.“I have a lot I haven’t accomplished here,” McDowell said. “That keeps you motivated. … If I went back to sports-car racing and won a race, well, I’ve won those races and contended for championships there. Wins are all it’s about but I’m not doing anything new.”Could Wise go back to sprint cars? He said running 100 races a year wouldn’t work as a father of two young children.“For me, I just try to look out the window and look at what I can see,” Wise said. “I can see this team, what we’re working on, what we’re building and I can see myself just trying to make it the best we can as we move forward.“Where that goes from there is unknown to me.” And that’s the key. Is all this worth it? Would they still embark on this quest knowing what they’ve been through?“I don’t know,” Cassill said. “You haven’t told me what happens 10 years from now. That’s the whole point of not giving up.”WATCH:
A late-night spat between Dodgers and Angels fans in Southern California turned violent, leaving two Marines stabbed, another injured and six people arrested.The fight broke out just before 2 a.m. Monday near Main and Walnut Streets in Huntington Beach, when a woman wearing an Angels jersey reportedly got into an argument with two individuals discussing the Dodgers. The tension between the parties worsened, and three Marines passing by attempted to intervene to defuse the situation.Instead, the Los Angeles Times reports, they became the target of attacks.Police say two Marines were stabbed, one of them cut with a broken bottle in front of police. They remain hospitalized Monday, but are expected to survive. The third was treated and released.Six people were arrested in connection with the violence: Manuel Alexis Alvarez, 23, of Downey, Calif.; Victoria Robledo, 20, of Norwalk, Calif.; Paul Santino Forno, 22, of Whittier, Calif.; Daniel Magadan, 24, of Whittier; Erik Alexander Gomez Chavez, 27, Norwalk; and Jessica Perez, 22, of Downey.Alvarez and Robledo were being held in Huntington Beach City Jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.The remaining four individuals were interviewed and then released.The names of the victims were not released. Huntington Beach police say their investigation is ongoing.(via Los Angeles Times; The Associated Press contributed to this report.)This article has been updated.
AJ McCarron won two BCS titles while playing at Alabama.During his time in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide was the nation’s dominant program. And as he moves closer to being drafted, he still feels that he’s been disrespected.“I feel like I’ve been disrespected my whole college career because I won,” McCarron said in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine. “And that’s usually the knock on me is deep ball and that we won, and I won behind NFL talent, which is crazy because when you get to the NFL, you’re playing with NFL talent. It’s not like we didn’t play anybody. We played in the SEC — to me the best conference in college football.”In four seasons at Alabama — he started from 2011-13 — McCarron completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 9,019 yards, 77 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. Last season he was runner-up in the Heisman voting to Jameis Winston. He won the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top player.McCarron elected to not play in the Senior Bowl. Instead, he will throw Sunday at the Combine, getting the opportunity to prove to scouts and skeptics that he can throw the deep ball.There was talk at the Combine that McCarron — projected anywhere between the second and fifth round — could end up in New England. “It’s almost like New England is the Alabama of pro football,” he told reporters. “Coach (Nick) Saban learned under coach (Bill) Belichick. It would be almost déjà vu in a way.”McCarron even compared himself to Tom Brady.“When it comes to similarities, I think from body build to how we were talked about coming out of college, I think Tom Brady,” McCarron told reporters. “I think we play the game the same way. He still moves in the pocket pretty well to get away from blitzes, and everybody doubted his arm strength coming out, and he’s turned out pretty good so far, I would say.”
NEW YORK — I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I uttered some version of this phrase in the past few months: “If Michigan State ever gets healthy, the Spartans can win the national title.” I wasn’t alone, obviously. The Spartans have been this wonderfully intriguing mishmash of veterans and viruses, of sophomores and surgeries, of rising stars and swelling joints. It was easy to believe in their talent, rougher to believe in their ability to stay healthy. They started the season 18-1, then won just five of their next dozen games. Coach Tom Izzo has been forced to use 15 different starting lineups this season. Only two players — Denzel Valentine and Gavin Schilling — have appeared in all 36 games. “It was just so frustrating,” sophomore guard Gary Harris told Sporting News. You’ll notice Harris’ use of the word “was” instead of “is.” The Spartans are riding a five-game winning streak into their Sweet 16 showdown with top-seeded Virginia on Friday evening at Madison Square Garden. They’re finally healthy, and showing the ability everyone in the country knew was lurking somewhere in that infirmary report. And “everyone” includes their opponent Friday: “I knew as soon as they got healthy, they’d be back to full force,” Virginia big man Mike Tobey said. The quick recap: Harris missed three games with an ankle injury. Adreian Payne missed seven games, with plantar fasciitis and a foot sprain. Keith Appling missed three with a sore wrist. Branden Dawson missed one with a shin bruise and nine with a broken bone in his right hand. Matt Costello missed four with mononucleosis. Travis Trice missed one with foot blisters and another with an illness. There are other issues, but you get the point. One guy came back, another went out. “It was pretty hard, losing, winning, losing, winning in that stretch we had. It was pretty tough,” said Valentine. “Coach kept pushing us and kept believing in us.” Those inside the Michigan State locker room shared a similar thought about this team: Get healthy, get better. “It seemed like somebody was always hurt, we never had a full team,” Costello said. “We really bonded on that, like, ‘OK, we’ve been through some tough times, let’s go and take care of what we need to take care of. Let’s win some championships at the end of the year.’ ” The Spartans have already wrapped up one championship, blowing past Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament title game. That victory essentially served as the all-clear, the sign that it was finally OK to believe in the Spartans again. Despite their spot as a No. 4 seed in the East region, Michigan State was installed just behind Florida as the Vegas favorite to win it all. “Next thing you know, everybody’s picking you to win the national championship,” Valentine said. “Everything happens for a reason.”VIDEO: More on Spartans-Cavaliers
Michael Waltrip Racing’s Brian Vickers paced a final Sprint Cup Series practice session that featured Penske Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing plagued with tire issues Saturday at Auto Club Speedway.Vickers turned a lap of 185.926 mph around the 2-mile track in the final 60-minute session in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon (185.840) was second, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.Paul Menard, who missed practice and qualifying Friday because of the birth of his daughter Tuesday, was eighth in the final practice. Auto Club 400 polesitter Matt Kenseth was 13th.There were no big crashes, but Penske Racing had Keselowski suffer two flat tires while Joey Logano (sixth overall) also had two. Logano smacked the wall after his second flat and he had enough damage that he will have to go to a backup car. At the start of the race Sunday, Logano will have to relinquish his starting spot of seventh because he went to a backup car.Teams try to have as low air pressure in the tires as possible when they start a run, and apparently Penske is among those having trouble finding the balance of an air pressure that provides top speed as well as durability.“We’ve got an issue for sure. … Obviously it’s an air pressure or setup (issue) in the way we’re leaning on these tires,” Logano told Fox Sports 1 during the telecast. “We need to figure it out. We didn’t have this issue (Friday) and we didn’t really change much, so we’re a little confused on that.“On that last run, we put (more) air pressure and it came apart. Goodyear thinks it’s air pressure. I’m sure that’s some of it.”Also going to a backup car was Martin Truex Jr., who had a flat in the first practice session Saturday and slapped the wall. He was supposed to start 12th Sunday but now also will have to start at the rear.”The tire went down going into Turn 1, and I didn’t have any warning,” Truex said. “That’s not the place you want to have a tire issue. SHR’s Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick also had flat tires in the final session.“I am definitely concerned about tomorrow,” Logano said. “I think Goodyear should be more concerned than I am. There are 43 of us out there that can have the issue.“The 41 (of Busch) had a problem, the 78 (of Truex) had a problem, lots of guys had problems. We had four problems between the two Team Penske cars.”
Jimmie Johnson thought he had earned his first Sprint Cup victory of 2014 Sunday. And then he encountered a problem many other drivers had throughout the Auto Club 400.A flat tire. Tire problems forced drivers on to pit road at least a dozen times during the race at Auto Club Speedway, whose surface hasn’t been repaved since its 1997 opening. That makes for good multiple grooves and good racing, but it also has resulted in bumps in the tracks.”I hate Goodyear was not prepared today for what happened,” said Jeff Gordon, who had a problem late in the race and saw a chance to win slip away when Clint Bowyer had a flat tire and spun with two laps remaining.Goodyear brought the same tire the teams used last year with no issues but with the 2014 aero package increasing downforce and teams running higher speeds with increased loads, it appeared to compromise the tire sidewalls.“We did an awesome job as a race team and we did everything we could to win the race,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, something out of our control let us down.”Whether it was in the team’s control was debatable. Kurt Busch had an issue Saturday and said his team went conservative on its setup Sunday to avoid the problem.“We were lucky, we had our tire problem with two minutes to go in practice yesterday, and that allowed us to go into a conservative approach overnight,” Busch said. “I’m glad that we had that. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise to blow a tire and to not pay a penalty by spinning and wrecking your primary car.”Kurt’s brother, Kyle, won the race and reported that his car had no issues. In fact, none of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars had problems.“Every left-side tire that we’ve seen gone down or had issues with is kind of the same characteristics as (Saturday), (with) the common denominator being aggressive on air pressure,” Goodyear’s NASCAR racing manager Greg Stucker said“You’re in race conditions, so everybody is running a little bit harder. It’s not surprising that you see a few more if people haven’t made adjustment from where they were yesterday.”Two of Kurt Busch’s teammates — Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick — did have tire issues.“We have faster cars, more downforce, and NASCAR is allowing us to put whatever cambers we want into the cars, and therefore it’s up to the team’s discretion if you’re going to have a problem or not,” Kurt Busch said. “I’ve been in this game 15 years, and normally NASCAR mandates what certain air pressures you have to run and what cambers you have to run not to have a black eye for Goodyear.“By no means is this a problem for Goodyear, it’s actually a thumbs-up for NASCAR allowing the teams to get aggressive in all areas.”Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a tire issue that put him in the wall. He wouldn’t blame Goodyear.“The back straightaway is very rough and I think the tire can’t handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway,” Earnhardt said. “And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together.“There ain’t another racetrack on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They’re incredible huge, huge bumps. And I think that plays a big role in it. … I feel bad for Goodyear. I think the tire is fine. I like the tire. It’s just those bumps.”NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said he didn’t believe it was a Goodyear problem but said NASCAR officials will see if any changes need to be made. Teams also are getting more aggressive with wheel camber, which they began having more options with start last year, Pemberton said.“The tires weren’t wearing. At some parts of the race (they) were abused a little bit, so I guess that’s why the failures (happened)” Pemberton said. “The competitors have asked to bring more aggressive tires, to bring tires that they need to manage in how they use them and how they get the most out of them.”Obviously the teams that managed their tires best didn’t have issues.“There were a lot of guys out there today that had no problems,” Stucker said. “I think we also have to take that into account and say, ‘What’s different about their setups versus some of the guys that have had issues’? And (then we’ll) dissect all that and have a lot of conversation with NASCAR and the teams and then decide what the approach would be going forward.”Jeff Gordon said Goodyear was unprepared, and that he had an issue even as he was going for the win after Johnson’s problem.”They are so good at what they do and that is just uncalled for,” Gordon said. “We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off.”Brad Keseowski had two tire issues in practice Saturday, and he said his team backed off — and lost speed. He didn’t have an issue Sunday until late in the race.“This tire didn’t have any margin,” Keselowski said. “We have probably a half a dozen tires remaining that have no margin, and I would expect similar issues through the season. “(We have) no margin from last year, and we have increased the demand significantly. If you are going to fix it, you either have to change the margin on the tire or put the cars back to their configuration last year where they were less harsh on the tires.”Goodyear recommended 22 pounds of air pressure and Pemberton said some teams were going as low as 14 pounds. Stucker didn’t seem surprised teams didn’t adjust after some had problems Saturday.“They practice under certain setups, they get used to that, they try to make those work, so I think they’re apprehensive to make big swings at it,” Stucker said. “But in some cases, more was needed than what was done. I think they’re just trying to be as aggressive as they can be and try to go out and win a race.”VIDEOS: Tire problemsJunior, Johnson hit
Novak Djokovic surged into the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships with an emphatic win over Roberto Bautista-Agut.Roger Federer, who could face Djokovic in the semifinals, endured a much tougher route through to the last eight. He needed three sets to defeat Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3. Djokovic needed 59 minutes to dismantle his Spanish opponent on Wednesday, surging to a 6-1, 6-3 success.Defending champion Djokovic, bidding to win the ATP 500 hard court tournament for a fifth time in the past six years, was in control right from the start, easing into a 5-0 lead in the first set, which he closed out promptly by holding serve to love.Bautista-Agut provided sterner resistance in the second and even managed to break the Djokovic serve. However, despite his best efforts, the world number 51 was unable to prevent the Serbian from coasting to a comfortable triumph.Federer dropped serve in the opening game of his match, but appeared to be on his way to a straightforward success after recovering to claim the first set.Stepanek forced a decider before opening up a 2-0 lead in the third to seemingly take control of the contest.But the Federer soon showcased his championship pedigree, which came to the fore with a backhand return winner that broke Stepanek, whose challenge quickly wilted as he failed to win another service game.Fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga progressed via a walkover as his opponent Nikolay Davydenko withdrew with a rib injury.Daydenko’s Russian compatriot Mikhail Youzhny enjoyed better fortune as he overcame Great Britain’s James Ward 6-1, 7-6 (7-3), while the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych beat Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-2, 6-1. Berdych, beaten in the final by Djokovic last year, had little difficulty in dispatching Stakhovsky, a winner over Federer at Wimbledon in 2013, to set up an enticing clash with Tsonga in the last eight.Lukas Rosol continued the theme of Czech success with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber kept his hopes of a fifth career ATP title intact by beating Italian Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-3.Elsewhere in the draw, Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri overcame Indian Somdev Devvarman 6-3, 7-5.