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SUNDAY, APRIL 29, 2007
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Stewart wrestling comments put NASCAR on defensive

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press Writer

TALLADEGA — The season opened with a cheating scandal that threatened the integrity of NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. A mere two months later, its credibility is again under scrutiny because Tony Stewart likened the sport to professional wrestling.

Even though the two-time champion retracted his comments, the damage was already done.

At a time when NASCAR is fighting sagging television ratings, flat attendance and a court challenge over sponsorship that could shake the entire sport, Stewart’s rant was the last thing it needed.

“There’s no question that comments like those made by Tony are bad for the sport,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “The amount of Fortune 500 companies, the promoters, most of the stakeholders, they look at those comments and say ‘Oh my gosh,’ and that’s not good for anyone.”

Now it’s up to NASCAR to fix it, starting with Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

At the heart of Stewart’s rant were allegations that NASCAR manipulates its events by using bogus debris cautions to orchestrate closer racing. The races are fake, he indicated, just like wrestling.

“I don’t know that they’ve run a fair race all year,” he said on his weekly radio show.

An hourlong meeting with NASCAR as the sun came up at Talladega on Friday changed Stewart’s mind, and the outspoken driver humbly admitted he was wrong.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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