NASCAR instituted a new system this season to determine the Nextel Cup Series champion:

1. Every time you win a big race, you gain points.

2. Every time you say a bad word, you lose points.

So moments after Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Talladega Superspeedway last week to take a 13-point lead in the Nextel Cup standings over Kurt Busch, he uttered a four-letter profanity on TV to allow Busch to regain the No. 1 spot by 12 points.

At this point, Earnhardt has to worry more about his tongue slipping than his tires flattening.

In February, NASCAR President Mike Helton told drivers to watch their language on radio and TV. In March, Johnny Sauter was fined and docked 25 points for using the s-word during a radio interview. In June, Ron Hornaday also was fined and docked 25 points for using the s-word on radio.

Then last week, when asked by NBC about his fifth victory at Talladega, Earnhardt responded, "It don't mean [expletive] right now. Daddy's won here 10 times." Earnhardt was fined and docked 25 points.

(Interesting note: "Daddy" -- the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. -- would have had negative points in the Nextel Cup standings under these new guidelines.)

(Not-as-interesting note: NASCAR nailed Earnhardt Jr. for cursing in the most mild and common of manners but ignored the fact that he said, "It don't mean [expletive]" when proper grammar would be, "It doesn't mean [expletive]." Standards are sinking. Then again, most people in this nation think Sizzler serves a good steak.)

(Vaguely interesting personal note: I'm sympathetic to the spirit of NASCAR's language directive; I just wish it applied to the real road. The other day I was driving somewhat slowly in the left lane of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A fellow motorist first tried to run up my backside -- actually, that's an old Earnhardt family trick. Then, as he passed me, the driver flipped me off -- another Earnhardt family tradition -- and yelled out a bunch of stuff that didn't sound like the Gettysburg Address. I ignored him as best I could and resumed shaving.)

(College note of interest: Here are the latest numbers from runaway Heisman Trophy leader Timmy Chang -- 21 of 35 for 322 yards Saturday in Hawaii's 48-26 victory over Nevada. Chang is to quarterbacking what Paul Bunyan was to lumberjacking.)

(Note to readers who may be interested: No, I am not paid by the parenthesis.)

Now, if NASCAR wants to police driver conduct, so be it. But as Richie Gilmore, competition director of Dale Earnhardt Inc., pointed out, "This whole incident is going to force everyone in the sport to rethink showing any excitement in what should be a jubilant moment."

(Incidentally, in terms of showing excitement, I believe one day Terrell Owens is going to reach into his sock after scoring a touchdown and pull out a trampoline.)

Part of this crackdown emanates from Janet Jackson's breast-o-rama at the last Super Bowl -- and the FCC's subsequent crackdown on objectionable content -- and from NASCAR's desire to be perceived as a "family sport."

(Speaking of which, how exactly does Tony Stewart's often boorish behavior fit into any family gathering?)

Meantime, NBC now says it will add a five-second delay to its NASCAR telecasts, following the lead of ABC using a five-second delay on "Monday Night Football."

(Couch Slouch has had a five-second delay for years when ordering at drive-thrus.)

"We're disappointed for our viewers to have to do this," NBC Sports maestro Dick Ebersol said, "but the delay provides a level of protection against anything inappropriate going out over the air."

(If Ebersol's so concerned about the level of protection against anything inappropriate going out over the air, where was the delay when Bill Walton was doing NBA games?)

Ask The Slouch

Q. Doesn't college football need an eight-team championship playoff format? (Gary Martens; Denver)

A. Again with this issue? I should keep this answer on file: We don't need a playoff system, we need health care reform. Besides, USC's so good, the Trojans could win it all even if they only dressed their players who went to class.

Q. Do you run into Sears 10 minutes before a "World Series of Poker" taping and let Philip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson pick out your suits? (Todd Orodenker; Elkins Park, Pa.)

A. Mock me if you must, but with every fourth sports coat purchased at Sears, I get a free DieHard car battery.

Q. Due to censorship problems, Howard Stern is going to satellite radio. What measures are you taking to ensure your "voice" is heard? (Jess Gobel; Redmond, Wash.)

A. I sleep with the windows open.

Q. How long do you give the Tiger Woods marriage? (Traci Applebee; Gulfport, Miss.)

A. They should be good through the Buick Open.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. E-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!