Thursday, February 7, 2008

Free speech? Well not exactly, just ask Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Daytona Beach,

Have the rules of conduct for Sprint Cup drivers changed, specifically, in post-race interview language?

Not according to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“No, I don’t believe them. I don’t think anybody does,” said the driver making his Sprint Cupt debut for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend.

Then he added, rhetorically, “are we supposed to walk the line, and see where we step over it, and get fined when we go too far?

Just a few weeks ago, when NASCAR officials admitted that drivers needed more leeway in on-track conduct and speech. There was the promise of a return to a more colorful NASCAR as part of that presentation. To most of us - on the media tour - that meant we were, again, to expect drivers really say what was on their minds and not worry about the consequences.

Flash back to Talladega, October 2004, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. uttered a forbidden curse word in the moment of celebrating his win there. NASCAR officials slapped him with a $10,000 fine and 25-point penalty dropping him out of first place in the points standings.

That points loss hurt much more than the dollars.

Since then he’s been a lot more circumspect in his language and has not run afoul of NASCAR officials nor language police.

At media day, going into the 50th running of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt said NASCAR’s policy was all smoke and mirrors, for now.

“I think honestly they’re playing to you guys and not talking the drivers . I think…they’re trying to appear looser when the message has not been relayed to the driver as to what’s been changed,” he said.

Then he looked some of us, straight in the eye, adding “it’s just a press release; we’re going to do this. That was a just a little card game between you, two and really has nothing to do with the drivers. I don’t feel like I’ve been holding back.

And there’s words I don’t use that I have used in the past that I shouldn’t use on National television, for me I get to be the same. I don’t feel like I’ve had to reserve myself too much."

Don't you wonder who, if anyone, is going to test that new line drawn in the sand?

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