Originally created 10/06/04

Penalty drops Earnhardt out of Chase's top spot



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

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

Now, instead of leading Kurt Busch by 13 points in the Nextel Cup standings, Earnhardt, the son of the 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.

"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 Earnhardt's comments were not made in anger, Gilmore said the team has received hundreds 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, he has plenty of time to make up the deficit on Busch, 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 (N.C.) 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-bearing halftime show at the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, the FCC has cracked down on objectionable content on TV. In September, CBS was fined a record $550,000 by federal regulators for the halftime show.