Stewart Likens NASCAR To Pro Wrestling

Wednesday, April 25th 2007, 7:52 pm

By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Two-time champion Tony Stewart likened NASCAR to professional wrestling and accused it of using bogus caution flags to shape races in biting comments made on his weekly radio show.

Stewart's appearance on his Tuesday night show was his first since skipping a post-race press conference in Phoenix. He dominated Saturday night's race but lost after a late exchange of leads with winner Jeff Gordon. Stewart said he refused interviews to avoid bashing NASCAR after officials threw four cautions for debris on the track.

``It's like playing God,'' he said on his Sirius Satellite Radio program. ``They can almost dictate the race instead of the drivers doing it. It's happened too many times this year.''

Stewart, who said he was fighting a fever and left the two-hour show early, went on to say fans are complaining about debris cautions and NASCAR isn't listening.

``I guess NASCAR thinks 'Hey, wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it's going to work in racing, too,''' he said. ``I can't understand how long the fans are going to let NASCAR treat them like they're stupid before the fans finally turn on NASCAR.

``I don't know that they've run a fair race all year.''

NASCAR called Stewart's comments ``very, very disappointing.''

``NASCAR has been running races since 1948, and we place the safety of the drivers at the top of the list,'' said spokesman Jim Hunter. ``We have more people and more resources than ever officiating our races. The safety of the drivers is our first priority. It has always been that way and will continue to be that way.

``There are thousands of talented race drivers out there who would consider it an honor to compete in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.''

Although NASCAR has a policy that prohibits obscene language and gestures on television, the sanctioning body has no rule against criticizing its officiating. The NBA and NFL both fine its participants for criticizing the referees.

Hunter said NASCAR had no plans to punish Stewart for his remarks about officiating, which is done from a tower above the race track by a team of eight that includes NASCAR president Mike Helton and competition director Robin Pemberton.

NASCAR also does not force its drivers to meet with the media but has post-race procedures in place for the top three finishers and highest finishing rookie. The official entry blank each week lists the policy, but Stewart was adamant on his radio show that he is not required to abide by it.

``There's nothing, zero, in my contract that says I have to do that,'' he said. ``We do that as a courtesy to NASCAR and the media. The thing with the media is they think it's our obligation to do those things. It's not our obligation. It's a privilege that they get to do that.''

He said skipping the press conference was his way of getting even with NASCAR over what he considered unfair officiating.

``NASCAR is the ones that always ask us to go to the media center, so instead of doing what they wanted, they don't do what we want to do and run the race fair,'' he said. ``So why would I go to the media center and make them happy?''

Stewart led a race-high 132 laps at Phoenix but lost the lead while pitting under the final caution, which came for an accident. He used an impressive three-wide pass to re-claim the lead, only to swap it right back to Gordon, who drove away to victory.

Stewart called it the only legitimate caution of the day.

``To me, it's not all about the money, it's about the integrity of the sport,'' he said on his radio program. ``When I feel our own sanctioning body isn't taking care of that, it's hard to support them and feel proud about being a driver in the Nextel Cup Series when they're throwing debris cautions.''

He has had a frustrating start to the season, dominating several races but failing to find his way to Victory Lane. He was the class of the field at Daytona and Bristol, only to lose those races because of a wreck and mechanical failure.

He also lost a race in Atlanta when a debris caution came out while he was leading with 25 laps to go and the field pitted. Jimmie Johnson passed him for the victory with three laps to go.

Stewart was so frustrated after wrecking in Texas two weeks ago _ an accident caused by hard racing with Juan Pablo Montoya and criticized because Stewart ultimately wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. _ he threatened retirement.

The 35-year-old Stewart had calmed by the time he hosted last week's radio show, when he said he talked of retiring out of frustration.

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