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NASCAR decides to punish ‘bad boys’ (wink, wink)

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George Diaz
May 12, 2011
— The poobahs who run the NASCAR Nation must look at themselves in the mirror and be awfully conflicted these days.

Who are we?


Do we want to be more corporate and appeal to the masses, particularly those upscale places like New York and Kal-i-for-ni-a with their fancy restaurants and cement ponds?


Or should we stand true to our roots, and honor all our loyal fans who love wreckin’ and racin’, and an occasional ‘rasslin’ match in the pits?


That is the conundrum of these challenging times. The recent dust-ups involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman/Jimmie Johnson, and most notably Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, are snapshots of a sport not quite sure what to make of its identity.


It seems they kinda like the “boys have at it” hall pass handed out by Brian France last year, but have put themselves in such a tight corner that the consequences for bad behavior amount to a five-minute time out in the kitchen corner and a “please behave” scream from mommy.


Harvick and Busch, following their shenanigans in Darlington, were both fined $25,000 and placed on four weeks probation following their confrontational give-and-take. Busch smacked the rear of Harvick’s car, sending it spinning onto a wall. Harvick decided to get even by reaching into Busch’s car and throwing a punch at him after the race. Busch then tapped Harvick’s car away and it turned into the inside pit wall.


Both bad boys ended up in the NASCAR hauler, the equivalent of the principal’s office, where no peace treaty was signed.


Both guys still despise each other.


What a beautiful thing. NASCAR should be toasting these guys for recruiting new fans to the sport. Nobody likes the Vanilla NASCAR flavor. Rocky Road is where it’s at.


“Look at the violence in football, and people knocking each other’s teeth out in hockey,” said Rusty Wallace, a former Cup star and now an analyst for ESPN. “People love controversy—the smoking tires, the screaming, the wrecking. It gets boring driving around in circles and nothing is happening.”


NASCAR has been proactive trying to win back fans—first by switching to a playoff “Chase” format in 2004, and then issuing the “boys have at it” edict in 2010. “There’s an age-old saying that in NASCAR, if you ain’t rubbing, you ain’t racing,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said at the time.


The sport has gotten too big for its britches in some ways, with the cluster of super teams like Hendrick Motor Sports and Richard Childress Racing. And it alienated a lot of true-blue fans by dumping some smaller tracks in favor of big-city venues.


The new NASCAR pines for an edgy attitude. It needs guys like Harvick, Busch, his older brother Kurt, and even open-wheel import Montoya to shake things up along pit road. It’s too kissy-poo, right down to the tandem-racing strategy on the super-speedways where guys are driving buddy-buddy clustered in pairs.


“I think they (NASCAR) should give Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch four weeks in the Bahamas and they should pay them $25,000,” Speed analyst Kyle Petty said.


NASCAR’s problem in opening the door for shenanigans is that it has to police this with as little interference as possible. Think of NASCAR officials as a mall cop instead of Robocop.


Wallace calls the policing “an imaginary line in the sand,” and he’s right, since the very nature of these scrums include all sorts of unpredictable variables.


“I don’t know what it is until we visually see it,” Wallace said.


What we are seeing is shades of gray. Feel free to act like hooligans boys, just don’t kill each other or any spectators.


NASCAR is finding its way back to its true roots.


Maybe when it looks in the mirror next time, nobody will be so conflicted.


“Have it boys” sounds like a plan.



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