NASCAR eyes sponsor decisions

FORT WORTH, Texas -- NASCAR plans to become more involved in race-sponsorship decisions by speedways in light of the continuing controversy surrounding the National Rifle Association's sponsorship of the Sprint Cup race Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

"The NRA's sponsorship of the event at Texas Motor Speedway fit within existing parameters that NASCAR affords tracks in securing partnerships," said NASCAR spokesman David Higdon. "However, this situation has made it clear that we need to take a closer look at our approval process moving forward, as current circumstances need to be factored in when making decisions."

In some respects, this weekend at TMS has become more about politics than racing for the NRA 500, as the sponsorship coincides with the current national gun control debate to become the prevailing storyline.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote to News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch asking the Fox network not broadcast Saturday night's race because of the NRA sponsorship.

TMS president Eddie Gossage and Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith answered questions regarding Murphy's request and the NRA sponsorship Friday. Gossage said it would be the only time they would address the topic.

He said only a few people had contacted the speedway to criticize the sponsorship decision.

"We've had fewer than a dozen responses," Gossage said. "Of those, only two had purchased tickets [to other TMS events]. There is no controversy or big uproar or even a tiny uproar. As for this senator, I appreciate a good publicity effort as much as anyone."

Sources confirmed Friday that two drivers were advised by their public relations directors not to do interviews in the TMS media center so they could avoid having the NRA logo behind them.

Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were asked about it on Thursday.

"I think it's a good fit for Texas," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If we win the race, we're going to treat Victory Lane just like any other race, and we'll be happy to celebrate just like everybody else has celebrated here in the past."

That celebration involves cowboy hats and pistols that shoot blanks.

"I own guns," Earnhardt said. "I like to hunt. When I'm not hunting, I keep my guns in a safe place, out of reach from my younger family members and my nieces and nephews. I like to hunt and I believe in ownership, but I also believe in responsibility. You can't ever be safe enough in regards to that, especially with gun ownership."

Keselowski said he would rather stay out of politics, but that's becoming difficult when questions about the subject continue.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed, is fresh on the minds of many Americans and has been central to the gun control debate.

Gossage has said all along that the NRA sponsorship was a business decision, not a political statement. Negotiations for the NRA contract took place long before the Newtown incident, but the announcement of the sponsorship agreement came after the tragedy.