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    The Naked Emperor

    Jeff Gordon’s win at Phoenix to tie Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in victories was the big story on track last weekend. The big story off the track was Tony Stewart’s post-race reaction. Stewart was nowhere to be found after finishing in the runner-up position and “politely” declining an interview, but he emerged a few days later on his radio talk show, blasting NASCAR officials for “playing God” by calling bogus cautions to tighten up the competition late in the race. Stewart’s accusations were not without merit, for there have been stewart.jpgseveral instances this season where mysterious debris cautions are called when certain defending champions and media darlings have fallen off the lead lap, allowing these fortunate sons to catch up without ever televising the source of the caution. In an era when every aspect of communication from Mother Nextel seems like a canned P.R. event to promote the New and Improved NASCAR, it was refreshing to hear from a rebel like Stewart telling the emperor he isn’t wearing any clothes. Trouble is, even if the emperor is naked he still has enough power to have the dissidents castrated, as Stewart found out when he was summoned to NASCAR’s Trailer of Horrors at 6 a.m. Friday morning. Stewart came out a short time later and, speaking in a decidedly higher pitch, apologized for his ignorance. A short time later, NASCAR Public Relations V.P. Jim Hunter addressed the media and announced that Stewart would be fined $10,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year for missing the post-race media session. Hunter also said that NASCAR encourages drivers to speak their mind as long as they do so responsibly, which basically means “as long as they support the party line”. So was the fine for missing the media event or for calling the officiating into question? NASCAR maintains it was for missing the interview. That’s a hard sell, but whatever the explanation, Stewart notched a small victory against Mother Nextel by putting the officials on the defensive for a while. If the fans get better visual confirmation for debris cautions now, it is a significant victory indeed.

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