John Hart stepped down yesterday as general manager of the Texas Rangers, clearing the way for 28-year-old Jon Daniels to become the youngest GM in major league history.

Hart's resignation came two days after the Rangers finished 79-83, their third losing season in four years under Hart and their fifth since winning their last AL West title in 1999.

Hart, whose teams won six division titles in his last seven years in Cleveland ending in 2001, will be replaced by Daniels, who at 28 years 41 days, is about 10 months younger than Theo Epstein was when he became Boston's GM on Nov. 25, 2002. Daniels was promoted from assistant GM and Hart will remain a team consultant, the team said.

Hart's biggest move was the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano just before the start of spring training in 2004. Without Rodriguez, the Rangers' offense surged behind the new core of the team -- young infielders Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira. All were acquired before Hart's arrival.

The Rangers contended just once during Hart's Texas tenure, finishing 89-73, third in the AL West but just three games out of first in 2004. . . .

Injured reliever Carlos Almanzar of the Rangers was suspended for the first 10 days of next season for violating baseball's steroid policy. Almanzar is the 10th major league player banned 10 days this year under the sport's new policy, and the second Texas pitcher. Agustin Montero was suspended on April 20. . . .

Two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez says he told congressional investigators yesterday that he thinks former teammate Rafael Palmeiro "has always been clean."

A release issued by Gonzalez's agent, Alan Nero, said Gonzalez spoke by telephone to attorneys from the House Government Reform Committee about Palmeiro and answered all of their questions.

Palmeiro was suspended Aug. 1 by Major League Baseball for failing a drug test. Gonzalez and Palmeiro played together for the Texas Rangers from 1989 to '93 and in 1999.

* AUTO RACING: Jimmie Johnson acknowledged he was at fault for an eight-car crash at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway that scuttled at least one other driver's championship hopes. Johnson had denied responsibility immediately after Sunday's accident, which cost both himself and Mark Martin valuable ground in the race for the Nextel Cup title.

After watching tape of the accident that occurred 20 laps into the race, Johnson said he realized he ran into the back of leader Elliott Sadler to start the wreck. Johnson initially claimed he was pushed into Sadler by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Johnson, who was involved in a later accident that ended his day, dropped from the top of the Nextel Cup leader board to fourth and is now 82 points behind new leader Tony Stewart. Martin, meanwhile, plummeted to ninth.

* SOCCER: Bob Bradley was fired as coach of the MetroStars, ending a run of nearly three years with no playoff victories and an MLS team consistently hovering near the .500 mark. Assistant coach Mo Johnston will take over for the interim. Bradley has more victories than any coach in MLS history, 114.

-- From News Services

Luna Rossa Challenge, right, and BMW Oracle prepare to race in the Louis Vuitton warmup regatta near Trapani, Italy.