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Post-Talladega expletive costs Earnhardt

10/6/2004

NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. was
knocked out of first place in the Nextel Cup standings by a slip of the
tongue.

Earnhardt was docked 25 points and fined $10,000 for
cursing during a TV interview after his victory at
Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR announced Tuesday.

Asked Sunday by NASCAR broadcaster NBC about the significance of his fifth victory at Talladega, Earnhardt said, "It don't mean s--- right now. Daddy's won here 10 times."

Now, instead of leading Kurt Busch by 13 points in the Nextel
Cup standings, Earnhardt, the son of late seven-time series
champion Dale Earnhardt, trails by 12 with seven races left in the
season.

Richie Gilmore, director of competition for Dale Earnhardt Inc.,
said the team will appeal NASCAR's decision.

"This is a huge setback for the entire company," Gilmore said.
"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.

"I think we're the only sport that takes points off of the
board after they've been scored. 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."

Pointing out that Junior's comments were not made in anger,
Gilmore said the team has received hundred of supportive calls from
fans.

"This whole incident is going to force everyone in the sport to
rethink showing any excitement in what should be a jubilant
moment," Gilmore added.

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 appeal.

Earnhardt will still be credited with the 14th victory of his
career and fifth at Talladega but, with the points penalty, it's as
though he finished fifth Sunday. Still, he has plenty of time to
make up the deficit, with up to 190 points available at
each of the last seven events.

In February, NASCAR president Mike Helton told drivers to watch
their language on radio and television. Less than a month later, he
showed he meant it: Johnny Sauter was fined and lost 25 points for
swearing during a radio interview after a Busch Series race in
Las Vegas.

Ron Hornaday Jr. also was hit with a fine and the loss of 25
points after cursing during a live radio interview in June during a
Busch race at Dover.

NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said Earnhardt's penalty was
consistent with those penalties.

"NASCAR President Mike Helton made it clear back in February at
the drivers meeting at Rockingham that we, as a family sport, were
taking this very seriously and adhering to FCC guidelines," Zizzo
said. "The timing is unfortunate for Dale Jr., but NASCAR also
made it clear to the competitors that we would police the last 10
races just like we did the first 26."

Since Janet Jackson's breast-baring halftime show at the Super
Bowl on Feb. 1, the FCC has cracked down on objectionable content
on TV and radio. Last month, CBS was fined a record $550,000 by federal
regulators for the halftime show.

Many have installed delays of up to 10 seconds for some programming, and ABC's ``Monday Night Football'' is using a 5-second delay this season. NBC does not give itself a chance to censor its NASCAR telecasts, though.

That's why viewers in nearly 7 million homes were able to hear Earnhardt use a vulgarity.

Junior, who will turn 30 Sunday, could not immediately be
reached for comment. Minutes after the TV interview, however, he
knew that his comment was going to mean trouble.

He was visibly uncomfortable during the winner's interview in
the pressbox, defending his use of what NASCAR has deemed
inappropriate language.

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

Earnhardt added that he wasn't promoting the use of that
language.

"If anybody was offended by the four-letter word I said ... I
can't imagine why they would have tuned into the race in the first
place," he said.