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Even ESPN, Washington Post reporters think NASCAR is 'rigged' UPDATE Co-host Tony Kornheiser intimated on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption that NASCAR had helped Earnhardt turn the fastest lap in qualifying. Kornheiser said a longtime NASCAR reporter told him there was a 60% chance that Earnhardt's car might not be legal. "There are people in and around the NASCAR world, not just drivers but people who cover the sport, who are winking at this one," Kornheiser said. "Who are wondering if this wasn't a setup because it's the pole position." The reporter was The Washington Post's Liz Clarke, who covered NASCAR for more than a decade for four newspapers and also wrote a book about the sport. [Editor's Note: No transponders in the car, so others think the car was legal but timing and scoring computers are rigged to put certain people on pole for certain races depending on what will sell more tickets.  What everyone sees come up on the timing and scoring screen is believed, but with no transponder in the car so teams can verify time, everyone takes for granted that the qualifying time is real.  Is it?]

Earlier Tuesday, Clarke had appeared on Kornheiser's ESPN 980 radio show in Washington. During a discussion about Earnhardt's pole position, Clarke said, "people who covered racing for a long time, a lot were just laughing when they heard Junior won the pole because of the rich NASCAR tradition of ginning up storylines and outcomes. There's a lot of questions still about Richard Petty's 200th win, which came the day Ronald Reagan was there. Everything Americana happened to fall into place that particular day."

Noting that PTI does a segment called "Odds" in which situations are assigned a 1-100 percentage, Kornheisesr asked Clarke, "what are the odds that NASCAR rigged this" so Earnhardt would start first? "I'd say better than 60%," Clarke said. "I'm trying to think, 'Will I regret saying that?' No, it's more likely than not. But he drives for the best, best team with the best cars and smartest mechanics. This is an awesome team. He's had the best equipment."

During a Wednesday morning appearance on Sirius NASCAR Radio, Clarke said she regretted assigning a percentage to such a scenario.

ESPN vice president of motorsports Rich Feinberg said, "that's a show of opinion, and they are entitled to their opinion. And I can tell you for sure that ESPN doesn't agree with his opinion yesterday, but that's the nature of commentary, and not all the time are we going to get a rosy picture when people are offering their opinions."

After Nationwide practice Wednesday, Earnhardt told reporters Kornheiser's comments didn't bother him because "those two guys that do that show don't know much about racing." Kornheiser was contrite about his NASCAR comments during Wednesday's PTI show. The featured interview was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who jokingly invited Kornheiser to a NASCAR race "to keep you from saying stupid things." See full story at the USA Today, along others from the Virginian Pilot and SceneDaily.

02/16/11 There are two schools of thought at ESPN where NASCAR is concerned. One group of employees enjoys the sport as part of the motorsports landscape, while another group is firmly convinced that NASCAR is completely fixed from top to bottom. It was this way when I worked at ESPN back in the 1980's and it is that way now.

Stick and ball sports are played out in the open. You make the catch against the wall for the final out. You intercept the ball and run for a touchdown. You shoot the puck into the net, putt the golf ball into the hole and it all seems so simple.

The dark voodoo of NASCAR [It's been happening for years and some rumors say the NASCAR grid is computer generated to boost ticket sales - no transponders in cars so it can be] perplexes those not exposed to motorsports as just another form of real sport. The reason ESPN has Tim Brewer on telecasts telling us wheels are round and fuel makes cars go is because the network believes that viewers need that basic level of assistance. In other words, people who watch this stuff are idiots. zzzz

Over the past four seasons, there have been many hilarious moments when the need to discuss NASCAR-related content fell to ESPN on-air employees with no clue. SportsCenter announcers rush through brief highlights so they can return to real sports, ESPNEWS anchors have that deer in the headlights look when a NASCAR interview surfaces. Names are mangled, details are wrong and the sport suffers.

The most bizarre graveyard for NASCAR on ESPN has been the weekday show called Pardon the Interruption. Originating from Washington DC, the show features two hosts discussing sports stories of the day with a time limit on each discussion.

Tuesday, fulltime host Tony Kornheiser was paired with Dan LeBatard, a substitute host and writer for the Miami Herald newspaper. In the picture above Kornheiser is on the left and LeBatard on the right. The fourth topic on the show rundown was Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Daytona 500 pole run.

Here is the conversation on the program that ran on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS only days before ESPN will start NASCAR racing coverage and FOX will telecast the Daytona 500:

LeBatard: Since we are already questioning college football's integrity, why don't you start investigating NASCAR's too, Mr. Restrictor Plate.

This is the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death, (TV) ratings are down since. Two hundred thousand fans will hold up three fingers in his honor at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. It just so happens that his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has the pole position for that race. You believe the fix is in, don't you?

Kornheiser: Well, it's a great America moment isn't it when Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona can have the pole position...a guy who has not won a race in his last 93 starts.

There are people in and around the NASCAR world, not just drivers but people who cover the sport as well, who are winking at this one. Who are wondering if this wasn't a set-up because it's the pole position, it's not winning the race.

It's just getting on the pole, having the lead and bringing the viewers in. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver for the last seven or eight years and he can't win a race. This is a good set-up moment, is it not?

LeBatard: But is it a great American moment or is it professional wrestling? If you're going to lob this accusation out there...and look, I've heard the comments where people say you let something go on the car and give a guy a certain advantage. I can't deny that Junior winning would be good for NASCAR.

Kornheiser: Every time he runs if he wins it's good for NASCAR because he is the most popular guy out there and they want to get the ratings back up. I think the suggestion here, someone I talked to who covered auto racing for a lot of years, said she believed there was a 60% chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code and people looked the other way.

There are no points involved, the other drivers don't get hurt and running three good laps is not the same as running 500 miles. Everybody in NASCAR is going to feel good about this.

Needless to say, even thought Kornheiser's comments lasted less than two minutes, the damage done was pretty thorough. What Kornheiser did was dredge up an issue that has plagued the sport for years. That is integrity. DalyPlanet
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