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It's not often that the lead item in the blog is NASCAR-related, but we try to be versatile. So let's talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his potty mouth.
In case you missed it, Junior won last Sunday's race in Talladega to take a slim lead in the the points standings. He was so overjoyed that shortly after climbing from his car, he told a network reporter -- on live TV, of all things -- that the win meant nothing to him given his father's prowess on the track.
Alas, Junior's not the type of fellow to use words like "prowess." Instead, he said, "That don't mean s--- right now, daddy's done won here 10 times." And as anyone knows, you can't run around using language like that without hearing about it.
Earlier this season, NASCAR told its drivers not to work blue. To prove just how seriously they were taking it, they fined a couple of non-star drivers a decent-sized chunk of change and docked them some points for going Chappelle during post-race interviews. NASCAR is, after all, a family sport (so long as you look past the fact that several teams are sponsored by breweries and that the sport got its biggest break when a couple of drivers engaged in a no-holds-barred brawl on national TV).
So, while it's fine to use bad grammar, bad language is clearly verboten. Did NASCAR want to dock Junior 25 points for his colorful language -- thereby costing him the lead? Heavens no. Skeptical garage-lingering types are convinced that NASCAR would collectively bend over backwards to have the über-marketable Junior win a title. To put it as Dale might, his daddy done did it seven times, and folks loved that.
But since NASCAR set a precedent (25 points and some cash), it had no choice but to punish Junior. And now that NASCAR has injected an unwanted measure of controversy into a points race that, because of the new "playoff system," was bound to become controversial, it has a potentially nasty situation on their hands.
So who's to blame? Well, you can't blame Earnhardt. Anyone who's talked to the guy for more than 10 seconds knows he can't not swear. Is that a crime? Good lord, I hope not. Yours truly is occasionally asked to voice his ridiculous opinions on the radio, and every time I do I say a prayer that I will somehow make it through the show without channeling Lenny Bruce. But I think NASCAR needs to look at the way it conducts its post-race interviews. The second- through fifth-place drivers are expected to make themselves available for interviews with TV and radio as soon as the race is over. These guys have just spent four hours risking their lives to win -- and failed. You think they're going to be chipper? As for the winner, he's pulled from his car -- and at Talladega, the death-defying factor is higher than anywhere else -- at his most exhilarated and forced to answer banal questions. It's a wonder a postseason interview has yet to follow this script:
Interviewer: "How do you feel?"
Winner: "I just drove 500 &%^$@!@ miles for four hours with a bunch of sons of ^%@$%@es banging their @#$%^%# cars into mine the whole time, you stupid %$#^$@ing $%#&@$#er. How would you feel, you %$^#^$#ing $%#^^$@# $^%#^#er? Your mother $%^%^#@$@#s and your father $#^%#^$&s his $%^#%^$*$ on a regular basis. Now take that microphone and go #$%@$^#%%@."
Look, these are athletes, not card-carrying members of the Algonquin Roundtable. Holding them to an urbanity standard when they've just risked life and limb is asinine. Let the guys get out of their cars and chill for a few minutes before you put them on live TV. Do you honestly think you could have pulled Ogden Nash out of car following a race and expect him to say something like, "I'll only drive faster after talking to my pastor"?
Incidentally, if NASCAR was looking for a way out of this without fining Earnhardt, it could have invoked a "clever clause" and said that any driver witty enough to make the following observation gets a free pass: "If anybody was offended by the four-letter word I said, well, I can't imagine why they would have tuned into the race in the first place."
To borrow a phrase from fellow blogger Josh Elliott, here are your division series winners, because I say so.
Minnesota. Here's what I don't get about baseball's postseason: Why is the first round best-of-five? Think about it. If a team is trying to knock off a superior side, the shorter the series the easier it is. Doesn't it make more sense to make the first round best-of-seven? That way, you're more likely to see the better team win. Flukes are more likely in a short series than a long one. In a five-gamer, Johan Santana wins twice and the Twins just have to hope to win one of three. In a seven-gamer, they'd still have to win two of five. And if they tried to pitch Santana three times, they'd run the risk of wearing out his arm. Having said that, the Yankees just look like they're ready to be beaten. Their starting pitching is shaky (do you really want to bank on Jon Leiber to keep you from falling into a 2--0 hole?) and their lineup is strangely ineffective.
Boston. I don't see it with the Angels. Tough to figure out how they're so good. The Sox are just too deep top to bottom, and everything I wrote about Santana applies to Curt Schilling. If Pedro Martinez can't win one stinking game, something's wrong.
St. Louis. The most low-profile murderer's row you'll ever see.
Houston. The Astros fired their manager at midseason and replaced him with a big cigar smoker, then got red-hot and won the wild card. Sound familiar, Marlins fans? And if you bet against Roger Clemens, you're an idiot. How great would it be to see a Clemens-Schilling matchup in Game 7 of the World Series? Young guns? I got your young guns right here.
You know the best thing about living in New York? When folks come to town, they bring their A-game. Concerts here are just better than anywhere else. Proof of that: Wilco's show at Radio City on Tuesday night. Just a great show. It says something when you can take a collection of relatively low-energy songs (primarily from their two most recent albums, both of which are phenomenal) and turn them into something as dynamic as Jeff Tweedy and the lads did. They're a six-piece these days, which means their sound is fuller than Bobby Bacala after taking advantage of the Olive Garden's bottomless bowl of pasta, but they're also incredibly tight. The band just has a rare gift of transforming really good album tracks into incredible live songs.
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I got into a bit of a disagreement with SI's Adam Duerson last night. He said that based on the trailer, Taxi, starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah, would be the worst movie in the past five years. I, on the other hand, opined that it would be the worst movie ever. Talk about striking while the iron is hot. These two stars that are literally blazing across the sky these days, what with Latifah coming off that movie with that guy and Fallon only eight months removed from showcasing his gift for not being able to recite unfunny SNL lines without laughing. Billy Wilder would have killed for a cast like this. Seriously, who needs Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck when you can have Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon?
Despite the absolute ripping it took in Sunday's New York Times Book Review, if you get a chance you should read A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover -- 44 million words. It's a witty, clever and, yes, sometimes informative book. And despite what the vitriolic Times review held, Jacobs wasn't literally trying to become the world's smartest man. The book is light-hearted. You don't have to be the smartest man in the world to figure that out. Give it a read. You'll be amused. And you just might just learn something. It's a hell of a lot more entertaining than the Times Book Review.
Scottie Pippen retired. What an odd career this guy had. He was named as one of the 50 best NBA players ever ... but have you ever met anyone who says Pippen is his/her favorite player?
Finally, RIP to three rather unique talents who passed away Tuesday: Janet Leigh, Gordon Cooper (who among us didn't want to be an astronaut at some point, and who among us didn't chuckle at DennisQuaid's portrayal of him in the The Right Stuff?) and Rodney Dangerfield. Anyone who could come up with the line "I was such an ugly baby, my mother never breast-fed me. She told me that she only liked me as a friend" is OK by me.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.