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Pedley: Conspiracy Talk Again Shadowing Junior

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to the checkered flag during his qualifying run at Daytona on Sunday. Earnhardt Jr.'s run was a pole run. Or was it? (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

I was kind of glad – and kind of surprised – when I turned into that late-afternoon ESPN discussion show which features two newspaper columnists who are much better at dropping names than doping

out anything NASCAR.

The crawl on the side of the screen which tells viewers what is coming up later in the show contained the word “Earnhardt”. Wow, actual racing discussion, I thought. Great.

It was not shocking, given that this weekend’s Daytona 500 is the 10-year anniversary of the death of the one driver whose name newspaper columnists outside the Southeast actually know, but seeing his name in the crawl was welcome none the less.

Then the subject turned to “Earnhardt” and, again not shockingly, things turned tawdry.

The discussion was about Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole for this year’s 500 and the theme was: Did NASCAR rig qualifying so that interest and ratings would go up for this year’s race?

Man, I thought that crap was flushed. I figured the fact that Earnhardt Jr. had gone through six straight seasons in which he has won a total of three races – while using the best equipment in the garages – would send the conspiracy seekers onto their next job site.

Remember the conspiratorial times? Remember when Earnhardt Jr. was viewed as nothing but a puppet of NASCAR’s shadow government? That no aspect of Earnhardt Jr.’s life was random?

I remember sitting in press boxes and media centers during races in those days and as soon as

Dale Earnhardt won the 2004 Daytona. Some say he really did not. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Earnhardt Jr. would grab a lead, somebody or somebodies in the joint would raise the specter of “fix”:

“Yep, see, there you go. He’s winning a race. Damn Frances and Helton.”

But it was usually in hushed tones. It saw the light of reportorial day mostly only in opinion pieces and radio talk shows.

You see, once upon a time, when published or printed statements had to substantiated by facts and actual evidence, real reporters’ suspicions and personal beliefs remained locked away for safe keeping. Editors insisted on that and rightly so.

Theorioes about the evil puppeteers from Daytona Beach would surface occasionally in print or on television, but for the most part, real reporters waited for evidence. We waited for some disgruntled insider (of which there had to be hundreds) or for some overlooked loophole in the Master Plan, to emerge.

None ever did in the case of Earnhardt Jr. No gun at all – smoking or otherwise – was found. No Deep Throat stepped forward. And nobody ever broke The Story.

One year on Monday of the week of the 500, when Daytona International Speedway is closed and quiet, I took a break from advance work and walked outside of the media center to stretch the old legs. I happened across a former DEI employee who had been fired. Had a nice, off-record chat about some juicy subjects. In the informal atmosphere, I asked about Earnhardt Jr. getting bigger plates or some kind of advantage from NASCAR.

Didn’t happen, the person said. Couldn’t happen. Too much to lose and too many people – media – watching.

And he was right, I think. Beginning in the 1980s, the sport’s popularity saw a consequent rise in the

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may never win a 500. Not in the eyes of some. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

number professional reporters covering the sport. A lot of good journalists were poking around the garages adn offices and theywould liked to have broken the story that Junior was getting preferential treatment from NASCAR. None ever did.

But over the years, as the media pool shrinks and what’s left of it desperately thrashes about in attempts to be first with a story, or be more outrageous in its reporting than the person sitting next to them, the rules have all changed.

Got a goofy theory? Run that baby!

So, no, I am not super surprised that mainstream media people – some of whom could not find Daytona Beach on a map of the eastern portion of Central Florida – are giving play to conspiratorial thoughts about Junior and his pole run. Just disappointed.

Earnhardt Jr. deserves better. NASCAR and racing deserve better. Especially from the mainstream, the supposed guardian of ethics. The accused deserve to be presumed innocent. Use of the the term “WWF” in relation to racing events and outcomes needs to be curtailed until guilt is established.

Just like in the mighty NFL:

I mean, how come nobody asked: Did the NFL fix it so that the Packers would get to the Super Bowl and Brett Favre and his his tabloid exploits of recent seasons would make bigger news. And then, did the NFL fix the Super Bowl so that clean-living Aaron Rodgers and the wholesome Packers would beat unseemly “Big” Ben Roethlisberger and the cheap-shot artists of the big-mouthed Pittsburgh Steelers?

I’m disappointed that conspiracy talk has returned – this year more so than others – because the way it stands right now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can never win a Daytona 500.

Because should he cross the finish line first this year – or any year – conspiracy freaks will scream that he won only because NASCAR set it up that way.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011
19 Comments

19 Comments »

  • Barb says:

    I guess there are a few questions. With Nascar ratings falling year after year why would they not have fixed a race or two for Junior before now? I mean they’ve as much as said ratings would be better if he was winning so why havent they helped themselves by ‘fixing’ a race or two?

    If anyone has been helped by ‘fixed’ races its five-time. Theyve changed Chase races to include races that are his best tracks. The question is why when fans seem less and less interested with every championship.

    As for Dale Jr I’m curious what he has to do to be believeable? If he wins, the race was fixed. Wins a pole, its fixed. Every accomplishment is followed up with the term ‘fixed’. SO what does he have to do to be believed? If he gains consistency then they will once again claim Nascar helped him. I dont recall hearing anyone say they fixed anything for Harvick last year when he went from below the radar to almost winning the championship.

  • Ginger says:

    Thanks Jim for a good story. It just never ends, does it? Oh well, those of us who love Dale Jr have quit paying attention to the naysayers and enjoy the fact that he is in Nascar. Without him I’d drop it like a hot potato.

    • Darryl says:

      Your comment tells me that you are a celebrity hound and not a race fan. Why don’t you just go ahead and drop that hot potato?

  • Terry says:

    The great Chevy-NASCAR conspiracy is to find a cool running FORD to push them to the win…..man FRANCE-HELTON-HENDICK-RCR….are really smart….that is a heck’uv a plan……pppsss hush..
    don’t anybody tell FORD teams….it’s a secret!!!

  • Carol Hudson says:

    Jim,
    Great article.Dosen’t anyone remember the fact that Dale JR usually runs well at Daytona.People who know nothing of this sport should keep their opinions to themselves.I was sorry to see the wreck that cost him the pole.Now were are celebrating the 10th anniversay of Dale SR death, please let Dale rest in peice.Nascar has made enough money from that fateful day.If this is their way of selling tickets and increasing TV rating things at Nascar in a sorry state of affairs. Dale JR has to be reminded of his father’s death at every turn. Put yourself in his shoes how would you feel. Safe racing on Sunday and Dale JR good luck may you end up in victory circle.

    Always an Earnhardt Fan

    • JR says:

      I would hate to think anyone was “celebrating” the passing of any driver. Maybe you should have said: “Marking the passing of…”.

  • Steveo says:

    In order for Nascar to minimuplate a race for Dale Jr. he has to run well. Since he has run well in very few races over the past few years, Nascar can’t do anything to help him if he’s not at the front of the field, which is why people blow it off.

    Nascar is to blame for this since they have left themselves open for these kinds of criticisms for decades so Kornheiser is not totally far fetched in his claims. But stating he hates Nascar and bashing it every chance he gets wins him no credibility with the Nascar faithful.

  • John says:

    Reposted with correct spelling!

    I fully believe that NASCAR can and has manipulated the outcome of races. I ‘m not saying the NASCAR is attempting to benefit JR exclusively. But I wholeheartedly believe that NASCAR has attempted to manipulate the outcome of races based on some prevailing story line. I have doubts about NASCAR’s legitimacy and as a result I no longer consider NASCAR a legitimate sport. Considering the declining ratings, maybe I’m not the only one who feels that way.

    • Karen Tucker says:

      WOW!!! John I’m reminded of the old agage:

      “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

      Have you any clue how many people would have to be involved to fix the outcome of any sporting event especially one that includes 43 teams and hundreds of officials?

      I hope you find your “legitimate” sport….

  • Charlie73 says:

    NASCAR will lose substantial amounts of money should they ever “fix” anything. The France family would surely face jail terms under some Federl laws since you can gamble on racing in Vegas.
    Does NASCAR protect stars? Absolutely. But no more than any other sport. No one ever questions the NFL on:
    No holding calls around Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or some other star QB. Note the jerseys being stretched and defensive players being tackled around them. The NFL protects its stars.
    No one questions Shaq bowling over a defender to get to the goal or any star scorer traveling long before the ball hits the floor on a dribble in the NBA.
    Baseball? Watch the strike-zone grow or shrink based on who is batting or pitch or which team is playing.
    Does NASCAR slow the pace car from time to time to help a star, yes. Is a questionalble caution thrown to help competition, yes. Is it to favor one over the other, no. They protect the show and provide quality entertainment in a great environment for a very competitive price. NASCAR does less to interfere than the other sports.
    Why doesn’t the National Media talk about that.

  • John says:

    I fully believe that NASCAR can and has manipulated the outcome of races. I ‘m sayinh the NASCAR is attempting to benefit JR exclusively. But I wholeheartly believe that NASCAR has attempted to manipulate the outcome based on some prevailing story line. I have doubts about NASCAR’s legitimatcy and as a result I no longer consider NASCAR a legitimate sport. Considering the declining ratings, maybe I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  • JR says:

    I’ve been in and around NASCAR for about 45 years and have seen most everything that goes on. NASCAR cannot “fix” a race to provide a guaranteed winner. On the other hand, NASCAR can give an “advantage” to whoever they choose. It is NASCAR that does the pre-race and post-race inspections. It is NASCAR that can throw a caution flag at an opportune time, it is NASCAR that tells you when a car is too fast on pit road and it is NASCAR that hands out restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega. These two tracks provide the easiest opportunity for NASCAR to help decide the outcome. Both are owned by ISC, the sister company to NASCAR. Both are considered “premier” events on the schedule, with the Daytona 500 being the biggest race of the season. Combine that with the name Earnhardt and the marketing machine that has propelled that name into dollars for NASCAR and you have a “perfect storm” situation. Nobody should express shock that these sort of things can happen in NASCAR…it is a “for profit” business and there are hundreds of millions of dollars involved. Asking people currently involved in NASCAR what they think will not get you an accurate answer. These people make their living in this business and none of them are about to throw their livelihood under the bus. As for Junior, even with NASCAR trying to help out, he still has to help himself get to the checkered flag…something that many of us don’t think he is capable of doing.

  • Larry says:

    If not in a wreck or tire or mechanical problems I bet Jr. wins the 500. This is the 10 anniversary of his Dad death, which is all we’ve heard since the coverage for Daytona has started and NASCAR needs him to win to create more fan interest. NASCAR needs him to win bad. Oh yes he also drives a Chevy. The offical brand of the Daytona 500. Take a look at last year when Jr. drove the No. 3 in the Nationwide race. Who won that race?

  • Russ Edwards says:

    Until Nascar develops some consistency stories like this will be easy to believe. These issues have been going on for years whenever they had a need to either try to retain a sponsor, or make a driver/team a hero.
    Even with this it works to their advantage by creating a buzz in a time when they desperately need some. So if there is to be some righteous indignation you need only look at Daytona Beach for the source.

  • Charles says:

    I agree with Tom, The question should be why Chevy gets to dominate Daytona!

    It Chevy Globetrotter verus Washington General other brands!

    “Car Fans” who made the sport and are a lot of the faces missing in Nascar!

    Tired of just watching a 3 hour Chevy commerical every Sunday!

    You are only allowed to dominate with a “Bowtie on the Hood”

    • garrett says:

      chevy has the most wins and the most championships chevy just dominates and all the top teams drive a chevy for godness sake the last 6 champions were chevys why dont you get a life and stop thinking like a stupid redneck

  • Terry Headley says:

    I say, boycott Kornhozer, ESPN AND the Washington Post until they dump Kornhozer and the Post dumps the Wicked Witch!

  • Terry says:

    Jim,
    Good article…..and what does Kornhozer know about NASCAR?
    You are spot on with Jr. ….he is in a no win situation. It is not like Dale Jarrett or Davey Allison…..they’re dads were REALLY good but they did not have the CRAZY FAN LOAD like Junior has. Larry Pearson just knew he was not going to be as good as his dad and never really tried. Kyle Petty did try but soon realized it just wasn’t going to happen and he rode out the string.
    I never had a problem with the way Jr drove …..I did with his dad. NASCAR has been accused of the FIX back in the day for King Richard. An ex Dale Sr. engine builder once told me ” they always looked the other way on #43 motors till Petty got his 200th. NASCAR got it’s BABE RUTH…..then they set down on them and they never won again” …..you are correct about the HENDRICK gets extra help crowd out there….that is all you hear. That and Mystery Debris for JJ…….
    I think Jr. is slowly giving in to Kyle Petty melancholy….
    Terry

  • Tom says:

    A Chevrolet fix, sure, but I’m doubting it’s Earnhardt specific.