Dale Earnhardt was nearly perfect on the racetrack. His only real slipup yesterday came in Victory Lane during a post-race television interview.
Earnhardt, who charged from 11th place to a victory and the series points lead in the last five laps of the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, put that lead in jeopardy by cursing during an NBC Sports interview.
In February at Rockingham, NASCAR President Mike Helton explicitly told drivers to watch their mouths on radio and television. Less than a month later, Johnny Sauter was fined $25,000 and docked 25 points after cursing during a radio interview following the Busch Series race in Las Vegas.
"I'm worried about losing some points," said Earnhardt, who moved into the series lead by 13 points over Kurt Busch, who finished fifth yesterday.
"Johnny said it in a fit of anger. I said it in Victory Lane," said Earnhardt, after his 14th career win. "I hope they understand that it was in jubilation and I know me and those other guys that got fined let it slip, but it's two different circumstances.
"I think that when you're happy and joyous about something and it happens, I think it's different than being angry and cursing in anger. Of course, we don't want to promote that."
NASCAR spokeswoman Denise Maloof said Nextel Cup Director John Darby and Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton were "aware of the situation and would address it on Tuesday or Wednesday. That doesn't necessarily mean that he will be fined or lose points."
The verbal slips took some of the edge off a very big day by Earnhardt.
"I'm a little worried about that, but I've won five races this year and I'm pretty thrilled," Earnhardt said. "I wasn't expecting to have such a great season."
Although he was at or near the front for virtually the entire EA Sports 500, leading a race-high 78 of the 188 laps, Earnhardt fell behind when crew chief Tony Eury Sr. decided to gamble on two fresh right-side tires on his final pit stop.
Eury decided to take advantage of the fact that Earnhardt was already on pit road for his final stop when a yellow flag came out for a crash involving Sterling Marlin and Bobby Labonte.
Still, other drivers got ahead of Earnhardt by staying on the track or taking only fuel on their final stops during the last of five cautions. But it made little difference once the green flag waved for Lap 184.
"Those brand new rights just drove around the corners so much better than those other guys with old tires out there," Earnhardt said. "I wasn't worried. They make the calls in the pits and I just drive the car."
Earnhardt, who won four straight Talladega races before being beaten by teammate Michael Waltrip last fall, came close again in April. He was second to Jeff Gordon in a controversial finish, with NASCAR determining that Gordon was leading when a yellow flag waved and froze the field. The race finished that way under caution to the displeasure of the spectators.
Gordon, who came into the race with a one-point lead over Busch, finished 19th and fell to third, 61 points behind after three of the 10 races in NASCAR's new 10-man playoff-style championship.
Earnhardt held off Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet, crossing the finish line 0.117 seconds -- about two car-lengths -- ahead.
Dale Jarrett finished third, followed by rookie Brendan Gaughan (Georgetown), Busch, title contender Tony Stewart and pole-starter Joe Nemechek.
Among the other contenders in NASCAR's playoff, defending series champion Matt Kenseth finished 14th, followed by Mark Martin and Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson had an engine failure and finished 37th, while Jeremy Mayfield was taken out in a four-car wreck on Lap 148.
The results widened the gap among contenders, with Martin 111 points back in fourth and Mayfield in 10th, 172 back.
* IRL: Adrian Fernandez won a two-lap sprint to the finish in the Toyota 400 in Fontana, Calif., nosing out Tony Kanaan, whose runner-up finish was good enough to clinch the series points title.
Fernandez outdueled Kanaan over the final two trips around the two-mile oval after a restart following a caution flag.
The victory was the third of the year -- and third in the last five IRL events -- for the native of Mexico City.
Fernandez led 18 laps and averaged 178.826 mph and was only a blink -- .0183 of a second -- in front of Kanaan at the end of the 400-mile race. Dan Wheldon, second behind his teammate in the points standings, finished third in the race, with two-time champion Sam Hornish Jr. fourth.