(Kevin Harvick spins after receiving contact from Kyle Busch in the closing laps at Darlington on Saturday night)
Do you remember that old line about going to a fight and a hockey game broke out?
Well you can replace hockey with NASCAR and that joke becomes pretty relevant to the current Sprint Cup Series.
Last Saturday night’s Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick dust-up has the folks in Daytona Beach giddy with glee that after a bit of a hiatus, “Boys Have at It” is back at full strength.
Actually we saw small signs of last year’s season-long mantra rear its head at Phoenix back in February when Carl Edwards made afew feign references about “owing one” to Kyle Busch for a Nationwide Series race skirmish.
But it wasn’t until Richmond when Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya got into each other twice on track that the full on edition of “BHAT- Volume 2” got kicked into high gear.
I have no problem with rivalries and drivers not liking each other. In fact it’s something NASCAR like any sport sorely needs.
Cubs-Cardinals, Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, Michigan-Ohio State – pick any professional or collegiate sport and rivalries are part of their mystique and popularity.
It’s no different in NASCAR and big time professional stock car racing has a long and storied history of great feuds in its 60-plus years of history.
Richard Petty vs. David Pearson. Cale Yarborough vs. the Allison Brothers. Darrell Waltrip vs. Bobby Allison. Heck even last year’s newest entry Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski have all generated hot blooded emotions and interest from NASCAR fans over the years.
But can these rivalries go too far? When does good old-fashioned hatred for an opponent spill over to a dangerous situation and even an embarrassing one for the sport? And should a sport use fighting to sell itself?
The NHL tried that philosophy for years and found much resistance from a general public appalled that such behavior was a marketing initiative for the sport. In recent years the league has cracked down on fighting with stiffer penalties and regulations however not totally admonishing it from the game.
Now it’s NASCAR trying to hang its hat on fisticuffs as a way to boost interest. The sanctioning body has made it very clear that in the era of “Boys Have at It” there isn’t much that’s considered over the line or out of bounds.
Take a look at last year’s list which included in no particular order Edwards flipping Keselowski at Atlanta, Edwards turning Keselowski (and later boldly admitting it in victory lane) at the Gateway Nationwide Series race, Kyle Busch purposely spinning Keselowski out in Nationwide competition at Bristol and Busch getting paid back by David Reutimann during the Chase race at Kansas.
In every one of those instances NASCAR did nothing more than place drivers on probation or assess a monetary fine. There were no suspensions, no parking of teams or no indication really that the sanctioning body thought there was anything more needed than a slap on the wrist.
Busch and Harvick’s post-Darlington scuffle is the latest example of the unruly behavior being embraced with only four race suspensions and $25,000 fines assessed. And even though Harvick threw a punch at Busch while he was sitting in his car, somehow the penalties were the same for both drivers.
Does this Wild West mentality really put the sport in the best light?
I can’t argue that its does generate at least some interest and attention. Despite Regan Smith pulling off one of the biggest upset wins in NASCAR history Saturday night, news stories across the country focused on the Harvick-Busch confrontation. The Smith win was an afterthought in most of those stories but I guess the upside for NASCAR is at least the race received coverage.
However I’m still not convinced this is the direction the sport should be headed. Things have gotten so far out of hand that not only are the actions condoned they seem to be encouraged.
Pointing to the great fight of the 1979 Daytona 500 between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers is not reason to believe NASCAR needs that kind of demonstration on a weekly basis to juice up interest. It was a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of emotion coupled with a crippling winter snowstorm that trapped millions of people in front of their television sets that turned the race into the legendary event it has become.
If people simply wanted to watch an event featuring competitors pummeling each other boxing and the UFC would be bigger deals on the sports landscape.
In my opinion the constant craving for fighting and fisticuffs only reinforces the unflattering stereotypes NASCAR has fought hard to change in becoming a mainstream and accepted major sport.
NASCAR needs rivalries and there are several raging on and even some simmering in anticipation of potential boil over.
What is doesn’t need is a motorized version of the Word Wrestling Federation with “Madhouse” undertones.
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