Be careful what you wish for

March, 7, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Well, NASCAR, you wanted to reach a broader audience.

So far in 2013, you've done that.

The past few weeks the sport has been all over CNN, MSNBC and even MTV between Danica Patrick setting history at the Daytona 500, the Daytona Nationwide Series crash that left more than 28 injured, little-known Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements being suspended for using a racial slur and the NRA sponsoring a race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Only a few days ago you had CNN host Piers Morgan passionately talking about the sport -- albeit in a not-so-positive way -- in a gun control debate with a Texas politician.

"I'm slightly baffled why you can't have a tobacco company sponsoring this race because, presumably, it's bad for Americans' health -- but you can have the NRA, which is basically funded by gun manufacturers," an outraged Morgan said to Texas State Sen. Dan Patrick.

Speaking of outraged, Denny Hamlin kept the TMZ mood going on Thursday when he lashed out at NASCAR for docking him $25,000 for being critical of the new "Gen-6" car.

It probably won't land on headline news, but it'll draw national attention.

When will it end?

Next thing you know Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be on "The Dr. Oz Show" talking about his detox diet.

In case you missed it, Earnhardt told reporters in Phoenix last weekend that he's down 15 to 20 pounds after a 15-day diet that included prune juice and carrot juice.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chris Graythen/NASCAR/Getty ImagesA slimmer Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming to a track near you.

It apparently was prompted by a "shrinking" firesuit last year.

"That's really what it's about for me is just trying to maintain my weight so I don't have to keep getting my driver suits altered throughout the season," Earnhardt explained. "Last year, I was like, 'Man, they're shrinking, something is wrong with the washer.'

"This offseason I lost a lot of weight … just trying to do a better job of managing my calories and stuff like that. I never really worried about it before. Just eat all kinds of stuff like pizza and wings and stuff every day and not really watching portion controls and stuff like that. Just getting out of control so reining all that back in. Not getting too crazy about it though. I'm no health freak by no means."

That is a relief. The sport may not be able to handle its most popular driver being a health freak around all the other issues.

The good news is all these other issues drowned out much of the debate -- much of that negative, too -- over whether the new Gen-6 car has been a success or failure yet at Daytona and Phoenix.

Hopefully, all will settle down and we'll get a better grip on that this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of the mile and a half tracks.

It's time for the talk to return to the drivers and competition, although NASCAR fining Hamlin for what seemed like harmless comments about the new car and single-file racing at Phoenix probably didn't help any.

Particularly since Hamlin is so mad he nearly begged to be suspended.

The bad news? The drivers and competition likely won't connect to a broader audience like everything else has.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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