Vickers loses 150 points; crew chief fined


Brian Vickers was docked 150 driver points and crew chief Kevin Hamlin was fined $100,000 by NASCAR yesterday because the Red Bull Racing team dipped its sheet metal in acid to make it lighter than required. Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz also was docked 150 owner points, while Hamlin and car chief Craig Smokstad were suspended indefinitely. Red Bull Racing general manager Jay Frye said the team accepted responsibility and would not appeal the penalties. The infraction was discovered after the No. 83 Toyota was randomly selected for a post-race inspection after Vickers' 11th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. Frye said Randy Cox, manager for Red Bull's research and development program, will replace Hamlin at this weekend's race in Atlanta. Vickers is tied for a career-best 15th in the standings, but the penalty drops him to 17th.

Ford: : Despite a dismal economic outlook for U.S. automakers, Ford Motor Co. extended its support of Roush Fenway Racing's NASCAR program. The extension is believed to be a five-year deal. Ford remains committed to a NASCAR relationship that has tallied 589 Cup wins dating to Jimmy Florian's 1950 victory at Dayton Speedway.

Lakers' Bryant says knee injury isn't serious


Los Angeles Lakers fans can rest easy. Kobe Bryant's right knee was a bit sore, but the injury isn't serious and it's possible he won't miss any playing time. "I'm all right, a little bit better today, a better mood, anyway," Bryant said after sitting out practice because of the hyperextended right knee he suffered Tuesday night in the second quarter of the Lakers' 102-98 preseason victory over the Charlotte Bobcats in San Diego. Wearing an ice bag on his knee, Bryant said he felt a lot better about his injury yesterday morning. Bryant, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, was injured under the Lakers' basket when he banged knees with teammate Josh Powell while going for a rebound. He said he hopes to play tonight when the Lakers face the Bobcats again, this time in Anaheim, Calif.

Bulls: : Guard Larry Hughes left the game against the Timberwolves with a dislocated right shoulder. Hughes, averaging 13 points in the preseason, is fighting for playing time in a crowded backcourt featuring Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose.

General managers: : The Lakers will avenge their NBA Finals loss to the Celtics, according to a survey of the league's general managers. Those who responded to the GM survey also picked Cleveland's LeBron James as the likely MVP. The Lakers received 46 percent of the vote in the seventh annual poll, well ahead of the Celtics (19 percent).

Beckham, AC Milan close to loan deal


AC Milan is close to signing David Beckham in a loan deal that would allow the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and former England captain to play in Italy for a few months starting in January. With the Major League Soccer season in the United States nearly over, Beckham is eager to join another club in Europe so he can remain in shape and keep his place on England's team for World Cup qualifying. England coach Fabio Capello has said he will not pick players who are not active. Beckham's spokesman, Simon Oliveira of 19 Management in Los Angeles, acknowledged talks are taking place for a short-term loan but "nothing is confirmed at present."

D.C. United: : Nicolas Vigneri and Pablo Zeballos scored to help Cruz Azul beat D.C. United, 2-0, late Tuesday night in Mexico City and eliminate United from the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tour de France makes big route change

et cetera

If he's looking for a reason to skip the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong now has a big one: Mont Ventoux. The notorious mountain ascent will be featured on the race's next-to-last day in a tradition-busting innovation aimed at keeping the suspense going to the very end. The seven-time champion was notably absent from yesterday's unveiling in Paris of the 2009 route. Close friend and team manager Johan Bruyneel did attend and said there was only a "50-50" chance Armstrong would make the Tour start on the July 4. This new route for cycling's 106-year-old showcase race will make any victory especially challenging - even for cyclists such as Armstrong who excel in the mountains. Organizers insisted the selection of Ventoux for 2009 was made long before Armstrong announced his comeback last month.

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