From the Marbles - NASCAR

Did NASCAR rig things so Dale Earnhardt Jr. could win the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500?

That's the accusation Tony Kornheiser made Tuesday on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."

"Someone I talked to who covered auto racing for a lot of years, said she believed there was a 60 percent chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code, and people looked the other way," Kornheiser said.

Well, there you have it. Kornheiser talked to someone who's "60 percent" sure the fix is in, so it must be true. Never mind that he doesn't mention who said reporter is or offer what evidence — if any — she provided to back her claim.

Look, we get that there are conspiracy theories out there, especially when it comes to Dale Earnhardt Jr. But it's one thing for fans to espouse those theories, quite another for a journalist to do so on national television — even in a light-hearted forum like PTI — with no more proof than he talked to someone who's 60 percent sure.

"We're hearing opinions from people who have no idea," former crew chief and ESPN analyst Andy Petree said. "You're working right next to every team in there. If I saw something on somebody else's car that I thought wasn't right, I'm gonna be the first one to make sure somebody knows it. And they'll do the same thing to me. That's not possible in this garage area. The integrity of this sport, I can vouch for it for 30 years I've been doing it, and I've never ever seen anything like that."

Even by Kornheiser's own admission the story has no merit. Journalism 101 dictates you don't report anything you don't believe is 100 percent accurate. So why would Kornheiser question the validity of an entire sport when he acknowledges his own claim has a 40 percent chance of being wrong?

We'll let you decide.

Here is the transcript of the conversation between Kornheiser and guest host Dan LeBatard:

LeBatard: Since we are already questioning college football's integrity, why don't you start investigating NASCAR's too, Mr. Restrictor Plate.

This is the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death, [TV] ratings are down since. Two hundred thousand fans will hold up three fingers in his honor at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. It just so happens that his son, Dale Earnhart Jr., has the pole position for that race. You believe the fix is in, don't you?

Kornheiser: Well, it's a great America moment isn't it when Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona can have the pole position ... a guy who has not won a race in his last 93 starts.

There are people in and around the NASCAR world, not just drivers but people who cover the sport as well, who are winking at this one. Who are wondering if this wasn't a set-up because it's the pole position, it's not winning the race.

It's just getting on the pole, having the lead and bringing the viewers in. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver for the last seven or eight years and he can't win a race. This is a good set-up moment, is it not?

LeBatard: But is it a great American moment or is it professional wrestling? If you're going to lob this accusation out there ... and look, I've heard the comments where people say you let something go on the car and give a guy a certain advantage. I can't deny that Junior winning would be good for NASCAR.

Kornheiser: Everytime he runs if he wins it's good for NASCAR because he is the most popular guy out there and they want to get the ratings back up. I think the suggestion here, someone I talked to who covered auto racing for a lot of years, said she believed there was a 60 percent chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code and people looked the other way.

There are no points involved, the other drivers don't get hurt and running three good laps is not the same as running 500 miles. Everybody in NASCAR is going to feel good about this.

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