This piece was originally published in 2001 on several websites. It was written in response to a bunch of conspiracy theories making the rounds at the time…


In the shadow of Saturday night’s Pepsi 400, there are more than a few debates going on as to the legitimacy of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s storied victory. In light of NASCAR’s actions and their mishandling of public relations since the last visit to Daytona, it’s no wonder that NASCAR finds more than its fair share of skeptics in Internet chatrooms this week.

I must admit, my radar went off after Junior spiked so confidently on the practice sheet. Like most people, I have been let down by governments, networks, parents, kids, superstars, big corporations, religions, gods and everything else. I can be a cynical as anyone. But after thinking about the motivations, risks and rewards involved, I found that cynic buried by logic.

It comes down to this: I can’t buy the idea of NASCAR risking 52 years of investment on 2 days worth of mainstream press and a boost in souvenir sales and television ratings. Sure, NASCAR profited as a whole by Junior’s win. But let’s say Jeff Gordon wins instead. Is the tangible difference between those two victory scenarios worth risking everything for? We’re talking TV contracts, sponsors, and shareholders – everything being risked for a week’s worth of good publicity. It’s just doesn’t make any sense.

On the other hand, I’m not totally naive, either. Every sport has a sort of built in “control” where the will of the organizers can be exercised through a call of judgement. Pass interference in football. The strike zone in baseball. Personal fouls in basketball. Each of them subjective in nature. Strategic manipulation of these calls can affect the flow of a game. Just as you can call holding on any play in football, you can throw a caution for debris on any lap during a NASCAR event.

From my observations, what happened at Daytona was more of a pact than an outright conspiracy to manipulate the race’s outcome. The drivers knew the best thing for the sport as a whole was for Junior to win. That’s why 12 qualifiers before him chose NOT to select the first pit stall near the turn one end of pit road. It wasn’t a “call”, but a sort of unspoken agreement between some of the drivers that what the sport needed, what NASCAR needed, what the fans needed and yes, what a young, lost kid from Kannapolis needed was to see the #8 in victory lane. No one gave anyone a bigger engine or an extra 1/16th on the plate. That’s way too risky. Plus, I truly believe that car to be that good. I just think some of the drivers did their part to make sure things went smoothly for him on the track.

For those who cry conspiracy, the argument could be made that the fastest cars in Daytona back in February where the same cars that were up front Saturday night. The same cars finished 1-2 and Steve Park, Kevin Harvick and Mike Skinner led a good bit as well. That is not surprising if you look at the lead sheets from both races. Take it one step further: this is the fourth straight restrictor-plate win for cars from the RAD alliance. In the Pepsi 400, the Chevy’s from RCR and DEI (#’s 1, 8, 15, 29 and 31) all spent more than 100 laps apiece in the top 10; no one else did. Shouldn’t there be some credit given for the aerodynamic engineering going on there?

In the ’80’s, bumper stickers read: “I (heart) NY”, or “I (heart) my cat”. Expressions of love and happiness. Now they proclaim that “Mean People Suck” and have images of Calvin peeing on things as an expression of their hatred and frustration. We’re a cynical society. We totally believe the tail is wagging to dog. Some would say that unfettered access to information has helped to make us that way. Others would say the media’s wish to grant us that unfettered access (albeit with their attached commercial motivation) is the real culprit. Perhaps. Either way, it is rather sad that people find so little to believe in.

My last thing: If NASCAR is truly into risking everything and “scripting” finishes for the sake of drama, press and ratings, don’t you think they would have found a way to put Kyle Petty into victory lane by now (not to mention Dodge)?