- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- MTV on Friday confirmed that Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements uttered a racial slur in a conversation with an editor, which led to Clements receiving an indefinite suspension from NASCAR for violating the sport's code of conduct.
The editor, Marty Beckerman, explained in a story published on MTV's website that he attended Saturday's race at Daytona International Speedway to do "a fish-out-of-water story about going to NASCAR and having a wild, crazy weekend."
"And, we were doing interviews with many of the drivers, and I was on the way to another interview -- we were looking for [driver] Johanna Long's trailer -- and the NASCAR publicist called Mr. Clements over and asked him for help finding her," Beckerman said.
"He [Clements] walked us toward where she was, and on the way over, I explained to him that 'Guy Code' [the name of an MTV blog] is rules for guys, how you treat your friends, how you treat your ladies, things like that. I was there to do a humor piece, so I asked him what would be 'Guy Code' for race car drivers, and he blurted out [a phrase that used the N-word]."
The statement confirmed what a source told ESPN.com's David Newton on Wednesday and what Clements told ESPN's Marty Smith on Thursday about his Saturday conversation with Beckerman at Daytona.
In a one-on-one interview with Smith, Clements would not verbalize the specific comments he made, but when pressed for clarity about whether it was racial, he paused. Asked again, "Was it racial or not? Maybe not in context, but in term?" Clements replied: "Correct."
"When you say 'racial' remark, it wasn't used to describe anybody or anything," Clements told Smith. "So that's all I'm going to say to that. And it really wasn't. I was describing racing, and the word I used was incorrect, and I shouldn't have said it. It shouldn't be used at all."
Beckerman was unavailable for comment Friday. In an email to ESPN.com he said, "MTV News will be all the press I'm doing."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented on the incident Friday.
"It's really unfortunate that (Clements) chose to make a decision at that time to use that language," Earnhardt said. "I don't like it. There's no room for that in my life. I'm sorry it happened to him and I hope he gets it sorted out. It looks bad on the sport and on other people."
In the MTV News story, Beckerman said he debated whether to publish the story around the quote. He said during discussions with editors he was contacted by a NASCAR representative who told him of Clements' suspension.
"We had not even intended to necessarily publish it, because our site is a humor site for men, we aren't the New York Times, we aren't investigative journalism. It didn't fit with our blog," Beckerman told MTV. "The fact is that NASCAR made this a national story, and then Clements explained a bit of what he said to ESPN. ... I never wanted to be part of the story."
Clements was indefinitely suspended Wednesday. NASCAR officials would not verify or discuss what he said, only that it was an "intolerable and insensitive remark'' and violated the sanctioning body's Code of Conduct for actions detrimental to stock car racing. Officials did verify that the remarks came during the course of a Feb. 23 interview. That was the same day as the Nationwide opener at Daytona.
Clements, who finished 33rd after parking early with an oil line problem, released a statement shortly after the suspension. "I apologize and regret what I said to the NASCAR writer and to NASCAR, my sponsors, my fans, and my team. NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that everyone must follow and I unintentionally violated that code.
"I will not get into specifics of what I said, but my comment to the writer was in no way meant to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone or to be detrimental to NASCAR or the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I will do what I need to do in order to atone for my error in judgment."
NASCAR's only official comment came in a statement from Steve O'Donnell, vice president of racing operations. "During the course of an interview, Jeremy Clements made an intolerable and insensitive remark," O'Donnell said in a release. "NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that's explicitly spelled out in the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book. We fully expect our entire industry to adhere to that Code."
The rulebook prohibits "public statement" that criticizes, ridicules or otherwise disparages another person based on race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age or handicapping condition. Beckerman told MTV News that Clements didn't use the phrase in reference to any specific driver but was instead illustrating that "if you drive roughly, you'll be treated roughly."
Jeff Gordon said he wasn't surprised by NASCAR's decision to suspend Clements.
"It's very clear to me that NASCAR has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to things that could be detrimental to the sport or have a negative impact on the sport," Gordon said. "I don't know all the details, but obviously, whatever was said, drew them to that conclusion."
Beckerman said he wrote the quote and that the conversation was not recorded. He said Clements called him on Thursday to discuss the quote and "let it be known that he regretted it. I don't know him well enough to know if that reflects anything in his heart," Beckerman said in the MTV story, "but he said he doesn't harbor these feelings."
16dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information