c/o Bridget Holloman, Exec. Secretary
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Phone: (843) 395-8811

First Place

David Poole, Charlotte Observer


Twenty-five years ago, a fire ruined the house in Kannapolis where 8-year-old Kelley Earnhardt and her 6-year-old brother, Dale Jr., lived.

That 1981 blaze not only sparked an upheaval of the family dynamic, it also forged the bond that makes this sister and brother one of the most formidable business teams in NASCAR.

"It has just always seemed to come down to Dale Jr. and me," said Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, who is married with two children.

"She has always been the one Dale Jr. would go to when he needed advice," said Brenda Jackson, their mother.

Earnhardt Jr. recently called his sister the most important person in his life.

"She has always made sure I was doing what I was supposed to be," said the defending champion of today's USG 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. "It would be very, very hard for me to find somebody who I feel as comfortable with."

Kelley is president of JR Motorsports, which fields the Busch Series team owned by Dale Jr. and handles the business and marketing interests that are separate from his job as driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dale Earnhardt's third wife, Teresa, took over as president and CEO of DEI after her husband's death in 2001. She and Kelley recently completed a deal assigning to Dale Jr. the rights to ownership of his name and signature as trademarks, rights that had been controlled by DEI.

"In the world we're in, other people usually don't own the rights to a living person's name," Kelley said. "As it got out (that) this was an issue between DEI and Dale Jr., the business world started asking, 'What's going on with that?' "

Jackson is more direct. "I am not sure," she said, "that everybody was going down the road they would have if Dale had still been here."

Things, Kelley said, just became "more difficult" after Earnhardt's death.

But Kelley and her little brother have dealt with "difficult" since they were kids.

A new way of life

Brenda Jackson was Brenda Gee before she became Earnhardt's second wife.

Earnhardt and Latane Key, the mother of Earnhardt's oldest son, Kerry, were divorced in 1970. A year later, Earnhardt and Brenda were married. Kelley was born in 1972, and two years later Dale Jr. came along. After Earnhardt and Brenda split in 1977, Kelley and Dale Jr. lived with Brenda as Earnhardt tried to make a living in racing.

Earnhardt was the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in 1979 and won the 1980 championship. In May 1981, while he was still a long way from being a legend, he was in a better position to take care of the kids than Brenda was after the fire. Brenda eventually moved to Virginia and married Willie Jackson, a firefighter in Norfolk.

Kelley and Dale Jr. moved in with Earnhardt and faced a new way of life.

"Dad was there when he could be," Kelley said. "But he was still making the kind of sacrifices he had to make to become what he wanted to be."

Earnhardt and Teresa Houston were heading toward their 1982 wedding, traveling to tracks all over the country.

"Dale Jr. and I stayed with nannies or relatives," Kelley said. "We didn't have that normal childhood, where the father comes home at 5 o'clock for dinner. It pretty much put Dale Jr. and me into survival mode."

Kelley "pretty much raised me," Earnhardt Jr. said.

After showing a streak of rebellion in his early teens, Dale Jr. was sent to a military school. Within a couple of weeks, Kelley asked to be sent there, too. She wanted to look after her brother.

Kelley and Dale Jr. later shared race cars, with Earnhardt providing just enough so they could compete as long as they worked hard to do it. Kelley eventually gave up driving. Dale Jr. went on to win two Busch Series titles for DEI and then moved to Cup as its flagship driver.

"Dale Jr. just trusted Dad to look after his things," Kelley said. "He looked at what Dad and Teresa had done and saw they certainly knew what they were doing. Everything was just kind of done for him. They handled his business, even his checking account."
Then, the world changed again.

When Earnhardt died, Teresa inherited the job of running the NASCAR empire and protecting the legacy of the seven-time champion.

"Teresa wants to protect what we do with (Earnhardt's) name," said Richie Gilmore, vice president for motorsports at DEI. Teresa has granted few interviews since Earnhardt's death, and through representatives declined comment for this story.

Dale Jr., meanwhile, became the family's on-track standard-bearer. He inherited many of his father's fans, along with the pressures and opportunities that accompany the Earnhardt name. But the emergence of Dale Jr.'s popularity created opportunities. In working to seize those, Dale Jr. wanted back some of what he had ceded to his father.

"It was sort of a trade with me signing my last contract with DEI, and it never got done," Dale Jr. said. "It just took longer than it should have or than I wanted it to."

In speaking of her dealings with DEI and her stepmother, Kelley chooses her words carefully.

"Our personalities are certainly different, and the ways we approach business are different," Kelley said of Teresa. "Dale Jr. and I are very proud of what our dad did, and we want to continue to help DEI in reaching his vision for that company. But we all have to work toward that with the same manner.

"Sometimes it just doesn't make a good team when you look at decisions from different ends of the spectrum. I don't think there's anything negative about the way we do business or the way Teresa does business. Sometimes we just look at it very differently."

Gilmore grins when asked about how he sometimes finds himself between Kelley and Teresa.

"They're both strong people," he said. "They can be a powerful force when they agree on something and go in the same direction. In a lot of ways, Dale Jr. is fortunate to have both of them."

Kelley said the deal over trademark rights changes nothing about Dale Jr.'s relationship with DEI as driver.
"But it does create the flexibility needed for Dale Jr. to be involved in other aspects," she said, "such as ownership of his own race teams or entertainment opportunities, like a nightclub or the radio show he does for XM. It provides business opportunities beyond his driving years."

Through 2007, Kelley said, there is "a process with DEI on how we work together on those various opportunities."

"After 2007," Kelley said, "JR Motorsports and Dale Jr. are able to negotiate the terms of those processes with DEI - or any other team that we would consider driving for.

"Our ultimate goal for Dale Jr. is for him to be at DEI the rest of his career, under the right circumstances. But we haven't always been able to do business with them the way we would like to. Having ownership of his name makes that part of our life easier in the event we ever have to drive for someone else. But that is not our goal."

Siblings a successful combo

Dale Jr.'s mother works for her children's company. Jackson moved back to North Carolina after her husband retired.

"I am a very, very lucky woman," she said. "I've got two bright, beautiful kids that I am very proud of. I get to interact with them almost every day.

Compared to what Kelley does, I do very little for the company. But I do get to know what's going on."
Jackson said her kids amaze her.

"If I ever have anybody I need to fuss at I want her in my corner," Jackson said of her daughter. "She's able to separate personal stuff from the business stuff and her standards are very high. She conducts herself that way and she expects that of everyone else.

"Dale Jr. just gets bigger and bigger. I am very proud of his accomplishments, but as a mother I am proudest of way he handles himself with honesty and the way he cares about his family and his friends."

It's no wonder, Dale Jr. is told, that he has no steady girlfriend - at least not one anyone knows about. She would have to pass muster with his mother and his sister first.

"There have only been a couple they've had any kind of good impression of," he said with a smile. "But when you get down to it, they are a pretty good jury."

The way Kelley and Dale Jr. complement each other, perhaps they should be twins.

"Dale Jr. is humble and shy and does not like conflict," Kelley said. "He would just as soon give up something as to have a fight over it."

On the money, Dale Jr. said.

"Without Kelley being there, a lot of things never would have happened," he said. "I let a lot of stuff go, I just try to keep everybody happy because it seems when everybody is satisfied everybody is moving forward. I just try to keep it going that way."

Kelley, however, digs her heels in by reflex.

"I am going to fight for what I believe in and for what's right," she said.

Jackson jokes that sometimes it seems like Kelley has three children - her own two and Dale Jr.
Kelley, however, knows enough about deals to know the one she has with her brother is a good one.
"I look after him as if it's my life, too," she said. "I can do that for him, because I trust him and know that I'll always be taken care of. If I need something he'll be there for me, too."


Forget that image of the valiant hero, battle with stoic nobility. For Bobby Hamilton, fighting cancer has been a nasty, difficult business.

Thirty-two times, Hamilton has laid strapped to a table with a hard plastic mask, molded to fit him, covering his face, neck and upper torso as, for 20 minutes at a time, radiation was fired at the cancer cells in his neck.

Once, about three-fourths of the way through, Hamilton began waving to signal for the treatment to stop. Mucus in his throat had built up to the point where he couldn't finish. He had 18 seconds left.
          "They've won," Hamilton said. "I am pretty strong, but they have beaten the crap out of me. I don't mind telling you that. I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

That's not a concession.

His medical report is replete with optimism, and Hamilton's resolve to return to NASCAR Truck Series competition, perhaps as soon as the final race this year, is as strong as ever.

His matter-of-fact honesty, always a trademark, also has not changed through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation at Vanderbilt University's hospital.

On March 17, Hamilton announced his diagnosis to stunned reporters at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He ran in the Truck race that night, then went to the hospital on Monday. He had his final scheduled treatment June 7.

Hamilton had severe blistering on his neck and sores in his mouth. The swelling in his neck was so bad at one point he couldn't swallow. His white blood cell count dropped and doctors warned that even the most mundane form of infection could turn into a major issue.

"I don't mind telling you I've sat up and looked at Lori (his fiancee) and said, 'I just don't understand it,' and then burst into tears," Hamilton admits. "It's like, 'What am I doing wrong?' "

When people hear you've seen Hamilton, they invariably ask how he looks. He looks like he's had one heck of a fist fight, and that the foe most certainly got in his licks.

On good days now he can swallow sips of liquid. Wednesday he tried to take a small pill and couldn't get it down. Twenty-four hours later his throat still hurt like the pill was still stuck there.

He weighed about 200 pounds when this started. Doctors told him to gain as much weight when he could still eat, and he made it to 213. He then went down to as low as 169. Now, he's at 180, taking nutrition through a tube in his stomach.

Despite their toll on his body, the treatments have done the job. The prognosis is encouraging, but his lead physician, Dr. Barbara Murphy, doesn't talk in absolutes.

"She's very careful about that," said Hamilton's fiancee, Lori Shuler. "She doesn't say, 'Oh, you're cured of cancer. You're 100 percent clean.' "

A group of doctors at Vanderbilt's cancer center was split on whether Hamilton should have surgery to check for lingering cancer. Dr. Murphy came down on the side of surgery, and now it's scheduled for Thursday.

It's still a long road back. Hamilton is weak, but after the surgery his rehab will pick up steam and he vows to start reclaiming the strength sapped from him over the past five months.

"The doctor told me that I'd take two steps forward and then one back," Hamilton said. "My problem is I haven't learned. I've learned a lot, but not enough.

"Last Sunday I had such a perfect day. It was like nothing had ever happened to me and I went all day long. But then it took me two or three days to get over it."

He came to Bristol on Wednesday to see his Truck Series teams compete and wound up going to the infield care center to get two intravenous bags of fluid. Shuler nearly took him to the emergency room, but he was better Thursday.

In June, not long after the final treatment and while the worst of the side effects were raging, Robbie Loomis called. Loomis, who'd worked at Petty Enterprises when Hamilton drove the No. 43, wanted to stop by on the way to the race in Sonoma, Calif. He brought Richard Petty, Kyle Petty and Dale Inman along, and they sat around and told stories and laughed.

"I think about that day a lot," Hamilton said. "That meant a lot to me to have them come by. Dale Inman walked up to me and said, 'I think about you every day.' And his eyes teared up."

Fellow Truck series driver Jack Sprague called. "He said, 'I don't handle this kind of stuff well. Just get better.' " Hamilton said.

Hamilton's son, Bobby Jr., has struggled, too.

"He walked in my office the other day," Hamilton said. "I was in there filing away some bills. "He looked at me and said, 'Why is your neck swollen again?' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Right there.' I said, 'That's just where I was bent over.'

"I keep having dreams that stuff has come back," Hamilton Jr. told his father.

Shuler remembers a woman at the hospital.

"Her neck was all blistered up and she'd had surgery," Shuler said. "She said, 'You don't know me but I am a fan of yours. I have the same thing as you do and it doesn't always turn out to be this ugly.' Bobby got up and went around and hugged her and said, 'You're beautiful to me.' I was just crying."
Hamilton said he doesn't know how to put into words how he's changed. But he tries.

"I know that I treat people differently," he said. "Anybody who's not in a coffin deserves the same respect as anybody else in this world. You're a life, and every one of us is fighting for his life every day. Even if you're not dealing with something like this, you're trying to feed your family and live your life."

If you saw Hamilton right now, even without knowing he's having surgery this week, you'd say there's no way he'll be back in a truck race in November.

But if you know anything about him, you wouldn't bet against it.

"Bobby Jr. asked me 'What if you get halfway through the race at Homestead and get tired?' " Hamilton said. "I said, 'I'll park.'

"My goal is to race. If I take the green flag, then I've won."


Exciting, controversial moments from two decades of all-star competition can be found on just about every list of great moments in NASCAR's Cup history.

"The Pass in the Grass" in 1987, Davey Allison's crash as he won the first all-star event at night in 1992 and Jeff Gordon's victory in 1997 in the legendary "T-Rex" car are part of a rich history in the event that will mark its 22nd year with Saturday night's running of the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Then, there's the 1986 race.

The Winston won by Bill Elliott at what is now Atlanta Motor Speedway is the only time the event has been held anywhere other than the 1.5-mile track here, and it also might have been the least competitive, with Elliott leading all but one lap.

But its true distinction is The Winston in 1986 had the smallest crowd in the event's history, and one of the smallest crowds for any Cup event in the sport's modern era.

"It was bad," NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said.

Laughably bad, said Roger Bear, who worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's sports marketing arm at the time.

"I told Mike Helton that day that we didn't need to turn the public address system on," Bear said. "We could just gather them all in a little huddle and talk to them."

Helton, now NASCAR president, was president of Atlanta International Raceway in 1986. The Winston was his last event before going to work for the France family.

"It was a good experience," Helton said. "A lot of times in my career I've learned what not to do, and I learned a lot that time. But it was worth a shot."

Crowd estimation has always been less than an exact science in racing. On May 11, 1986, the "official" attendance estimate for The Winston was 25,000, but people who were there scoffed at that number. The standing joke is that it would have taken less time to introduce the crowd to the drivers than the other way around.

"There might have been - might have been - 4,000 people there," Bear said. "But I will bet there were less. You could have drawn a better crowd for a Saturday night short-track race at Hickory Motor Speedway."

Bear swears it wasn't until a couple of months before the race that he and T. Wayne Robertson, who headed up Sports Marketing Enterprises for RJR, realized May 11 was Mother's Day that year.
"I blame it all on President Wilson or President McKinley, whoever it was who declared Mother's Day should be a holiday," Bear said. It was Wilson who issued that proclamation.

Racing on Mother's Day is still considered marketing taboo, even though Darlington (S.C.) Raceway has done OK with racing the night before for two years. And, unquestionably, the 1986 running of The Winston suffered from being on that day.

But there were other factors in play.

"First of all, it was the second running of it," Helton said. "Obviously the first of anything has a bigger aura around it than the second of anything.

You don't know until you try things like that."

Bear said RJR desperately wanted the first all-star race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, but balked because Bristol didn't have many seats, and because the winner was going to collect a then-unheard of $200,000.

"We were just scared there wouldn't be anything left of the cars if we did it at Bristol," Bear said.
So what's now Lowe's Motor Speedway got the inaugural event in 1985, which Darrell Waltrip won. But the intent was to move the race from track to track the way baseball holds its all-star game in a different park each year.

"The second year, the question was where to have it," Bear said. "We still wanted to go to Bristol, but we were still scared to death of what would happen if we ran it there. Atlanta seemed like a big market and the track was manageable."

Coca-Cola was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1986 and Atlanta, which had also bid on the inaugural, tried to tie The Winston in with those activities.

There were, however, complications. Early in its history, the Atlanta track had fallen into the same financial woes that its sister track here had. Both tracks had been in bankruptcy at one point. In Atlanta, Walter Nix had led a group of investors in bringing the track back to solvency, but Bear said Nix wasn't exactly extravagant in the way he spent on promotion.

"We probably erred, and when I say 'we' I mean 'I,' " Bear said. "I just assumed they would try to promote the race. I found out that was not true.

Right from the start, you were pretty sure it was going to be difficult."

RJR paid the purse for the race, as Nextel does now. Bear said RJR paid for virtually all of the promotion, too, although Helton said Atlanta's proposal to host the race included a budget for promotion that the track exceeded.

Jeff Byrd, now president of Bristol Motor Speedway, worked at Sports Marketing Enterprises at the time but was dealing with projects outside of the NASCAR program. Byrd joked that things looked so bad a few weeks before the race that Bear considered things like busing in soldiers from military bases and giving them free tickets just to get people in the stands.

One inducement tried was giving everyone who attended a rose for Mother's Day. "We had enough roses left over to supply the Rose Parade," Bear said.

Advance ticket sales were, to be kind, slow. Still, people who work at race tracks tend to hold out hope for miracles.

"Back in that time, your walk-up crowd was a big deal," Helton said. "Still, advance sales still gave you an indication what was going to happen. You could pretty much tell what the walk-up could be if the weather cooperated.

That morning, we pretty much had an idea that we probably didn't need as many ticket-sellers as we wished we might."

At some point, those connected with the event began to accept the fact that it was what it was.
"Finally, you were just saying, 'Let's get this done and get out of here,'"

Bear said. "Bill Elliott won the race and that went over well there in Georgia. We had a couple of really, really good parties that week. I got to meet (then-Atlanta Mayor) Andrew Young, somebody who I had admired, and sat next to him at dinner one night.

"I think the people who were there had a really good time. There just weren't very many of them."
Bear said the Atlanta debacle changed RJR's thinking about the all-star race. It returned here for the 1987 race that featured Earnhardt running through the corner of the infield grass and still keeping the lead.

"After a couple of years back in Charlotte, we wouldn't have dreamed of going anywhere else with it," Bear said.

After RJR's departure as the sport's title sponsor, speculation grew rapidly about the idea of moving the all-star race. That talk has quieted some, especially in the past year, with NASCAR Chairman Brian France saying during a visit to Charlotte last month there's no clear reason the Challenge, as it's known now, should be moved.

"It certainly becomes more difficult to go back to the original game plan when you have as much consistency and repetition as the all-star event has behind it today," Helton said. "I think what's happened since its origination is that the industry has grown and the influence the industry has to the Charlotte area has grown even more.

"If there's going to be an all-star event and it has a 19-year history of being in one location, moving that takes a great deal more debate than it might have 15 years ago."


Denny Hamlin had just whipped the field to win Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway and he was talking about all the valuable lessons he's learned in his rookie season of Nextel Cup competition.

"It's all about patience," Hamlin said. "Tony has really talked to me about it over the past few weeks."
Tony who?

          Tony Stewart?

Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and the guy who once again during the race exacted his own brand of instant justice by causing a wreck that very likely ended Carl Edwards' hopes of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup, even when Edwards had nothing to do with the incident Stewart was reacting to?

"It's an oxymoron, I know," Hamlin said.

Right, and chip off the first three letters of that word and you get a good description for what the reigning Cup champion has been driving like.

"I expect to be raced the way I race other people," Stewart said after he was involved in an incident, for the second straight week, that wouldn't have happened if he'd simply not decided to act like Judge Judy in an orange suit.

"I think I'm pretty fair," Stewart said. "Ask some veterans and ask the guys that I run up front with every week and I think I'm a pretty fair driver to those guys. If I'm wrong on that, I'll quit. I'll retire tomorrow."

Fair, of course, is where you go to buy funnel cakes. Substitute "smart" for "fair" in that offer, and Stewart would be looking at the shortest farewell tour in NASCAR history.

Last week at New Hampshire, Ryan Newman had fresh tires and was looking to get a lap back by passing Stewart. But since Newman had made himself tough to pass earlier in the race, Stewart decided not to give him an inch. Both drivers acted like they were fighting for a spot in line for extra milk at recess and wound up wrecking.

Sunday at Pocono, Stewart and Clint Bowyer were racing for position. Bowyer, without question, got too high and crowded Stewart, who scrubbed the outside wall.

Stewart is absolutely right to say Bowyer was being too aggressive for it to be so early in the race.
"The problem is they don't learn give and take in the Busch Series," Stewart said. "This is the Nextel Cup Series. If they would all learn a little give and take, none of us would have been in this position. Carl (Edwards) ended up with a bad day because of it. I ended up with a bad day. Four cars ended up with a bad day because one guy couldn't have patience and use give and take."

No. No. No. No.

Four cars ended up with a bad day because Stewart wasn't willing to consider the possibility that Bowyer might have simply overdriven the corner and made a mistake. Instead of walking up to Bowyer at Indianapolis in two weeks and saying, "Hey, rookie, here's why what you did at Pocono was a bad thing,"

Stewart went for the immediate lesson in "give and take."

First, he gave Bowyer gesture. Then he took his No. 20 Chevrolet and swerved toward Bowyer's. Whether Stewart barely touched him or plowed into him is irrelevant. Bowyer swerved away from Stewart and hit Edwards' Ford, wrecking both cars.

Flash forward three months. Stewart's battling for his second Chase title in a row and third overall when suddenly, and for no reason, his car gets wrecked because two other cars are jacking around. You'd be able to measure Stewart's reaction to that on a Richter scale.

Stewart was right, though, about one thing he said after the race.

"All I know is if the No. 3 car was here, a lot of these problems wouldn't be happening," Stewart said, referring to the late Dale Earnhardt. "He'd have had it all settled by now and we wouldn't have to worry about this."

That's quite likely true, because if Stewart did to Earnhardt what he did Sunday, somewhere down the road Stewart's wrinkled-up car would have a grille full of concrete and a splotch of black paint on its rear bumper.

Stewart Issues Apology

After speaking with Clint Bowyer on Monday, Tony Stewart apologized for his role in a wreck on Lap 31 in Sunday's race at Pocono:

"I'm taking 100 percent responsibility for the final incident that occurred on Lap 32 between myself, (Bowyer) and (Edwards). It was totally my fault," Stewart said in a statement.

"At the same time, there were circumstances that led up to that wreck, and after talking with Clint this morning, we both have a better understanding as to what happened. I reacted, causing the wreck that I take responsibility for and regret."


Did you hear the one about how NASCAR is cracking down on cheating?

Stock car racing rules enforcement officially became a joke Tuesday when NASCAR announced the rest of its penalty against Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, for the No. 48 Chevrolet's Daytona 500 qualifying violation.

Knaus is suspended for three more Cup races after also having to sit out Johnson's win in the 500 on Sunday. He is suspended until March 22. The season's fifth race, at Bristol, is March 26. Knaus was also fined $25,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

The punch line, though, is that neither Johnson nor car owner Rick Hendrick lost points.
Wait, it gets funnier.

Terry Labonte, driver of the No. 96 Chevrolet, and Bill Saunders, its owner, were docked 25 points for having an unapproved carburetor modification on their car in the same qualifying session. Crew chief Philippe Lopez was fined $25,000.

That team, Hall of Fame Racing, said it would appeal.

Hendrick Motorsports, on the other hand, won't appeal the penalty stemming from the fact that the rear window on Johnson's car was tricked up to deflect air over the rear spoiler on its qualifying run.
It should be overjoyed.

Losing Knaus for four races is not small potatoes. He's one of the sport's best crew chiefs, and his chemistry with Johnson and their team is a big reason that team has won 19 races since 2002 - more than any other team.

But Knaus wasn't at Daytona and the team still did well. Knaus can still work at the shop, and his cell phone and computer still work. He's not cut off from the team.

After saying for the past couple of years it will use points to show how serious it is about enforcing rules, NASCAR split hairs in taking them from Labonte and not from Johnson.

"If we have a part or piece that's illegal that we can lay our hands on, that's when we take points," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president for competition.

Knaus spoke to reporters shortly after the penalties were announced. He was asked several times, whether he thinks what he did was cheating.

"There are a lot of things out there that can be called intentional," Knaus said. "The fact is that when NASCAR went back the car didn't fit the templates. How that happens is pretty irrelevant."

Knaus said he's apologized for putting Johnson into a position where he must defend the team's honor.

"But there should be absolutely no grief over the Daytona 500," Knaus insisted. "They went through inspection several times without a flaw and then they went out and won the Daytona 500 no questions asked."

No, questions were asked. That's the problem, and instead of giving a definitive answer with its penalty, NASCAR half-stepped its way into an indefensible position.

Funny how often that happens, isn't it?