Co-host Tony Kornheiser intimated on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption that NASCAR had helped Earnhardt turn the fastest lap in qualifying. Kornheiser said a longtime NASCAR reporter told him there was a 60% chance that Earnhardt's car might not be legal. "There are people in and around the NASCAR world, not just drivers but people who cover the sport, who are winking at this one," Kornheiser said. "Who are wondering if this wasn't a setup because it's the pole position." The reporter was The Washington Post's Liz Clarke, who covered NASCAR for more than a decade for four newspapers and also wrote a book about the sport. Earlier Tuesday, Clarke had appeared on Kornheiser's ESPN 980 radio show in Washington. During a discussion about Earnhardt's pole position, Clarke said, "people who covered racing for a long time, a lot were just laughing when they heard Junior won the pole because of the rich NASCAR tradition of ginning up storylines and outcomes. There's a lot of questions still about Richard Petty's 200th win, which came the day Ronald Reagan was there. Everything Americana happened to fall into place that particular day." Noting that PTI does a segment called "Odds" in which situations are assigned a 1-100 percentage, Kornheisesr asked Clarke, "what are the odds that NASCAR rigged this" so Earnhardt would start first? "I'd say better than 60%," Clarke said. "I'm trying to think, 'Will I regret saying that?' No, it's more likely than not. But he drives for the best, best team with the best cars and smartest mechanics. This is an awesome team. He's had the best equipment." During a Wednesday morning appearance on Sirius NASCAR Radio, Clarke said she regretted assigning a percentage to such a scenario.
ESPN vice president of motorsports Rich Feinberg said, "that's a show of opinion, and they are entitled to their opinion. And I can tell you for sure that ESPN doesn't agree with his opinion yesterday, but that's the nature of commentary, and not all the time are we going to get a rosy picture when people are offering their opinions."
After Nationwide practice Wednesday, Earnhardt told reporters Kornheiser's comments didn't bother him because "those two guys that do that show don't know much about racing." Kornheiser was contrite about his NASCAR comments during Wednesday's PTI show. The featured interview was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who jokingly invited Kornheiser to a NASCAR race "to keep you from saying stupid things."