Enough Is Enough

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was robbed of his father at Daytona in February and this week he's been robbed from enjoying the thrill of an emotional victory.

As most know, last Saturday night Earnhardt dominated the Pepsi 400 field. With folks in the bleachers standing and more than 10 million people at home watching on television, Earnhardt crossed the finish line first, followed by teammate Michael Waltrip.

By any measure it was a storybook moment. His win is one to be cherished, one to be admired, and one to be put on the list of times to be remembered in NASCAR history.

This week, however, Earnhardt and his team - and other drivers - have had to face a battery of questions built around the notion that somehow, someway, this prodigy of one of the greatest drivers ever, cheated.

"I feel like everybody I talk to about the race, I have to prove to them it was real," Earnhardt told reporters in Chicago. "It's a shame. It's a great moment in NASCAR history and it was ruined, pretty much."

Frankly, that stinks.

Now, without absolute knowledge of how his engine was built, what restrictor plate his team was given by NASCAR officials or how his car was inspected throughout the process, it's impossible to be crystal clear that nothing happened, but to date evidence he cheated is non-existent.

No surprise, some naysayers suggest this moment was too good to true, that he couldn't have possibly been that good.

But throughout the week, there have been numerous stories with folks reacting to the notion there was some funny business involved in the win. Lost in these stories is the fact that Earnhardt finished second in the February race, and that Waltrip won.

Certainly, there is a mention of those facts, however when a story starts off about Earnhardt dogged by speculation, it irreparably damages the win.

Ironically, the speculation surrounding Earnhardt's victory comes at a time of peak interest for NASCAR. Leading up to the race, and often mixed in with stories about Dale Sr.'s death, were facts about all of the new fans NASCAR was drawing as a result of the new television packages.

Some of those folks, of course, have never watched a race before or followed the sport in the media. This point was driven home earlier this week when a non-race fan asked if Earnhardt had cheated, based merely on the reports in the papers.

The question was asked without any knowledge of how Earnhardt has performed this season, or in February at Daytona, but simply because the issue had been raised by the media.

For crying out loud, he's ninth in the Winston Cup points standings.

So it is, non-fans and new-fans alike are being introduced to a sport under a cloud of suspicion. Take that a step further.

NASCAR officials, who in the past five months have undergone a level of scrutiny by the media they haven't seen in 53 years, would be absolutely crazy to even talk about having a hand in the outcome of a race.

They've certainly made some bonehead moves this season, but they are smart enough to know orchestrating a win is unnecessary and would have catastrophic results on the sport if ever exposed.

To that end, how many people would be required to rig a race? You would need at least two, but realistically more. And the more people involved the greater the risk the truth would get out.

Still, there's no smoking gun.

Now, this isn't in anyway a suggestion that the media not ask tough questions about winners, or champions for that matter. Indeed, it is the responsibility of the media to dig out facts and to report the truth.

Likewise, it's the media's job to test assumptions and check the facts. Yet, so far there's been no evidence - short of his performance on the track – to prove that Earnhardt did anything wrong.

Instead, it's been a classic example of a guy being asked when he stopped beating his wife. If he's never beaten his wife, he's then forced to defend himself, thus creating stories about his denial.

Considering the impact of the win on Earnhardt, at the track that took his father, it's no wonder he hasn't gone out and brained some reporters. In Chicago, where Earnhardt appeared before the media, he did get a bit agitated. Who wouldn't?

Before Earnhardt's win on Saturday, other drivers had driven away with races, however they've not been saddled with the cheating tag.

The week following the death of Earnhardt's father, Steve Park won at Rockingham. Not a peep of cheating after that one. Rather, we all believed - and rightly so - that Park was on a mission, that he had somehow lifted his spirit and performance to the highest levels and won for his deceased friend and boss.

Why isn't it possible that the same occurred for Earnhardt, Jr. at Daytona last Saturday night? Can we not assume he brought his A game to Daytona?

Short of solid proof otherwise, we should, because what has occurred this week to Earnhardt, Jr. is terrible.

This was a terrific ending to a horrible tragedy, which has now turned into a nightmare of sorts, hurting not only Earnhardt, but also the sport.

Remember the win, and set aside the speculation. The glow of a win lasts only a week, and the cheating talk has taken the shine off of this one.

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