Questions, so many questions, after a few weeks away from the Sports Waves swirl:

Would someone please explain to me why NASCAR has become second only to the NFL in overall sports ratings?

I read the numbers--especially NASCAR getting $400 million a year from its first national TV deals with Fox and NBC/Turner starting in 2001--and I am astounded. Who can sit there hour after hour watching cars going around and around and around?

I've heard all the reasons--the drivers don't have visible tattoos or pierced noses and are unbelievably media-friendly; viewers identify with the cars and believe the Ford Taurus in the driveway could go 180 at Talladega if given half the chance; people watch to see the cars go crashing into walls and each other.

I still don't get it, and I don't think I ever will.

How is it that thousands of Redskins fans on District Cablevision were blacked out for about 15 minutes of the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles?

According to Earl Jones, area director for the cable company, Channel 5 was doing some maintenance on its signal and never informed District Cablevision, causing screens to turn snow white all around town. According to Channel 5 station manager Laureen Ong, it was not the station's fault, and District Cablevision was totally to blame. Any more questions?

Some might say the breakdown was a blessing, if only because the Eagles scored the game-winning touchdown, and no one in the District saw it.

Am I the only one troubled by the initial reporting by CNN and other news outlets on the plane crash that ended with the death of six people, including golfer Payne Stewart, last month?

I watched and listened to the early "unconfirmed reports" that a "prominent golfer" was on the plane. But if the reports were unconfirmed, why air them until you know for sure?

Has the competition in all-news-all-the-time TV become so cutthroat, so callous to include that sort of information? Wouldn't it have been enough simply to report on a plane that appeared to be in distress, veering way off course and possibly heading for a crash?

On a similar subject, why did two major sports talk stations in New York and Philadelphia both feel it necessary to jump the gun on the death of Walter Payton on a Sunday, a full day before the Hall of Fame running back succumbed to bile duct cancer?

Both stations, WFAN in New York and WYSP in Philadelphia, were forced to retract the stories when it became apparent that Payton was still alive. The programming director of WFAN apologized, claiming a producer had gone with the story without sufficient verification.

But why was it on the air in the first place? Why would anyone in a position of authority to make news-related decisions even think about airing a story that had not been confirmed by anyone remotely connected to the Bears or Payton's family?

Of course Payton's condition was of great interest, especially after he went public with the news last Feb. 2 that he had a rare disease of the liver and that he needed a transplant to survive. But there was absolutely no excuse to put out a report that was blatantly false, and prematurely caused great consternation to Payton's family, trying to cope with his last days in the privacy they so richly deserved. Is it really necessary to be first with the "scoop" on a death, with the possible exception of a head of state?

What was Robin Roberts, the gifted ABC and ESPN sportscaster who also does work for ABC News, doing as the master of ceremonies for a Bill Bradley fund-raiser Sunday in Madison Square Garden that raised $1.5 million for her favorite presidential candidate?

She was making a mistake, that's what. Roberts can walk into a voting booth and select any candidate she chooses on Election Day. But journalists don't endorse candidates, let alone play host to fund-raising affairs.

Wonder if Dan Snyder was watching ESPN's "Outside The Lines" the other day on Native Americans' objections to having what they consider to be derogatory words--like Redskins, for example--attached to sports teams?

Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was quoted as saying, "I have some black friends who are very big supporters of different teams and I just tell them 'Listen, how would you like that team to be called the Washington Darkies, or the Washington N-word' and they say 'Oh, that would be terrible, we couldn't do that.' "

Jack Kent Cooke vowed he would never change the name of his team as long as he was alive. Snyder also has said he has no plans to change the name. Then again, he's going to change the name of Redskins Stadium to FedEx Field. It's a $205 million start, right?