Today, Fox Sports held a media conference call in advance of Sunday’s Daytona 500. Now earlier this week on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, Tony Kornheiser made the comment that NASCAR is fixed and driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got the pole position for Sunday’s race because NASCAR wanted him there, not because he earned it. Well, it set off a firestorm. ESPN’s NASCAR crew had to address it on Wednesday during a conference call of its own and I’ll have that in a separate post later. But suffice it to say that Mr. Tony’s comments have set off a firestorm in NASCAR circles.
Here’s what the Fox crew had to say about that and other storylines for this Sunday’s race.
WALTRIP, MCREYNOLDS & JOY ARE REVVED UP AND READY FOR DAYTONA 500 & 2011 SEASON – NASCAR on FOX’s broadcasters Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Mike Joy joined FOX Sports Media Group Chairman David Hill and President Eric Shanks to preview this weekend’s Daytona 500 action and FOX Sports’ coverage of the 2011 season today.
Darrell Waltrip responds to Tony Kornheiser’s comments this week that NASCAR looked the other way and let Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the pole during qualifying in a car that wasn’t up to code: “Kornheiser needs to learn to keep his mouth shut and people maybe wouldn’t question how smart he is. He just blurted something out that shows how little he knows about this sport. I don’t even know if he’s been to a NASCAR race or not. I know in the NASCAR environment today, in that garage area, we are more transparent than ever. The cars, the engines, everything about inspection and what goes on down there is viewed by everyone – crew chiefs, crew members and NASCAR inspectors. Maybe he could’ve said something like that 20 years ago and everybody would’ve said, ‘yeah, I know what he’s talking about.’ That’s just not the way it is these days. Dale Jr. needed to be congratulated and not convicted for winning the pole. I thought it was in really poor taste. And I think a lot of people did too.”
Mike Joy on the conspiracy theory: “We have too much at stake. The credibility of the sport is on the line. Every week we go to the race track they are faced with a whole new set of circumstances. NASCAR has to adapt to what the engineers and the teams are putting into these cars to make them faster than the car next to them in the garage. The great thing about conspiracy theories is that if you’re looking for a conspiracy, you can find one whether one actually exists or not. It’s kind of like if you’re in love all you hear on the radio are the love songs.”
David Hill on Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s legacy being both a blessing and a curse: “Earnhardt was such a dominating personality. Has the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. overshadowed individual achievements in the last decade? It’s like we are saying that no one is as great as him. The legacy of Dale is both a blessing and a curse. I think psychologically it’s had an impact on the standing of the drivers. The Earnhardt legacy has stood in the way of the full recognition that Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick team should get for what they’ve achieved.”
Mike Joy on the 10th anniversary being a milestone that NASCAR can use to move on from Earnhardt’s passing: “What has helped is the passage of time. This 10th anniversary has been cathartic for many people. There have been TV specials and articles where people are speaking out that have not. For 10 years now, this sport has been apologizing for the death of Dale Earnhardt. Now everyone realizes we can now consign what Dale has done to a different era. It’s time to move on. It’s time to recognize the fellas who are going to be on the track racing at 200 mph on Sunday for the heroes that they are.”
Larry McReynolds on Earnhardt’s death being the catalyst for so many safety innovations in racing: “Earnhardt’s death was a polarizing moment for the sport. When we lost Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty, the sport was working on safety. But when we lost Dale Earnhardt, all of America turned its focus to this sport to see what was happening and what was wrong. The input that NASCAR and the safety researchers received was so unlike anything that had come before it. From that involvement, there were solutions. That is Dale’s lasting legacy. Losing him forced not just those within the sport but people outside the sport to all come together and make it safer.”
And there you have it.