Stewart Likens NASCAR to Pro Wrestling

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 25, 2007; 8:42 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two-time champion Tony Stewart likened NASCAR to professional wrestling and accused it of using bogus caution flags to shape races in biting comments made on his weekly radio show.

Stewart's appearance on his Tuesday night show was his first since skipping a post-race press conference in Phoenix. He dominated Saturday night's race but lost after a late exchange of leads with winner Jeff Gordon. Stewart said he refused interviews to avoid bashing NASCAR after officials threw four cautions for debris on the track.

"It's like playing God," he said on his Sirius Satellite Radio program. "They can almost dictate the race instead of the drivers doing it. It's happened too many times this year."

Stewart, who said he was fighting a fever and left the two-hour show early, went on to say fans are complaining about debris cautions and NASCAR isn't listening.

"I guess NASCAR thinks 'Hey, wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it's going to work in racing, too,'" he said. "I can't understand how long the fans are going to let NASCAR treat them like they're stupid before the fans finally turn on NASCAR.

"I don't know that they've run a fair race all year."

NASCAR called Stewart's comments "very, very disappointing."

"NASCAR has been running races since 1948, and we place the safety of the drivers at the top of the list," said spokesman Jim Hunter. "We have more people and more resources than ever officiating our races. The safety of the drivers is our first priority. It has always been that way and will continue to be that way.

"There are thousands of talented race drivers out there who would consider it an honor to compete in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series."

Although NASCAR has a policy that prohibits obscene language and gestures on television, the sanctioning body has no rule against criticizing its officiating. The NBA and NFL both fine its participants for criticizing the referees.

Hunter said NASCAR had no plans to punish Stewart for his remarks about officiating, which is done from a tower above the race track by a team of eight that includes NASCAR president Mike Helton and competition director Robin Pemberton.

NASCAR also does not force its drivers to meet with the media but has post-race procedures in place for the top three finishers and highest finishing rookie. The official entry blank each week lists the policy, but Stewart was adamant on his radio show that he is not required to abide by it.

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