In a word, NASCAR's Earnhardt pays

Cursing in TV interview costs driver top position in Chase, $10,000 fine

Auto Racing

October 06, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A post-race slip of the tongue has cost driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. the lead in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship.

Earnhardt used an obscenity during his post-race, televised interview after winning Sunday's race in Talladega, Ala., and yesterday NASCAR fined him 25 points and $10,000.

"This is a huge setback for the entire company," Richie Gilmore, director of competition for Dale Earnhardt Inc., said in a statement.

"We're in a sport that focuses its primary attention on the final 10 races of the season, and we're racing against formidable teams for a championship. We're facing a setback from a competition standpoint for something that should be considered a personal foul.

"We have no choice but to appeal the points portion of the penalty."

NASCAR appeals are heard by a three-person panel selected by NASCAR from the National Stock Car Racing Commission. No date has been set for the hearing. History shows rulings are seldom reversed.

The action dropped Earnhardt into second place in the standings, 12 behind Kurt Busch with seven races to go.

NASCAR became sensitive to drivers' language on radio and television in February, shortly after Janet Jackson's breast-baring halftime show at the Super Bowl, an incident that resulted in CBS being fined a record $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission.

In an effort to ward off trouble with the FCC, NASCAR president Mike Helton advised everyone in the sport that NASCAR would strictly follow FCC regulations. Anyone who cursed on-air would be penalized.

Showing he meant it, Helton fined Busch Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr. 25 points after he cursed during a live radio interview last June in Dover, Del.

"Mike Helton made it clear ... as a family sport, we're taking this very seriously," NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said from his office in Charlotte, N.C.

Earnhardt's trouble began when he was asked about the significance of his fifth Talladega victory by an NBC broadcaster and said, "It don't mean s--- right now. Daddy's won here 10 times."

Earnhardt, the son of the late seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, had said only a week earlier in Dover, Del., that he tries to watch what he says.

"I really try to be sensitive to people's feelings about things," he said. "But I still make mistakes."

On Sunday, he knew the moment the word left his mouth he was in trouble and tried to head off NASCAR in the press box interview after the race.

"I hope they understand that it was in jubilation," Earnhardt said. "I know me and those other guys that got fined let it slip, but it's two different circumstances.

"I think that when you're happy and joyous about something and it happens, I think it's different than being angry and cursing in anger."

NASCAR officials didn't see the difference, so today, instead of being 13 points ahead of Busch, he is a dozen behind.

"I think we're the only sport that takes points off the board after they've been scored," said Gilmore. "The popularity of this sport is based on colorful personalities and the fact that everyone can relate to these drivers and their emotions. Now, it seems like that's a detriment."

Nextel Cup points leaders

1. Kurt Busch, 5,530. 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 5,518. 3. Jeff Gordon, 5,482. 4. Mark Martin, 5,432. 5. Matt Kenseth, 5,393. 6. Tony Stewart, 5,391. 7. Ryan Newman, 5,384. 8. Elliott Sadler, 5,377. 9. Jimmie Johnson, 5,371. 10. Jeremy Mayfield, 5,263.

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