My Brain on NASCAR: Bitter rivals trading blows on Twitter

It seems to be the nature of the beast that when fans learn you have some connection, however tenuous, with the racing community, they feel compelled to  offer their opinions on the topic of “What’s Wrong With NASCAR.”

NASCAR’s ills, according to these usually well-meaning people, often include things like high ticket prices, drivers who are too politically correct, and not enough short-track races.

One observation I hear regularly during such conversations is, “There aren’t enough feuds.” Well, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has addressed that – sort of – but perhaps not in the manner fans expected.

In the past, famous NASCAR feuds have rivaled the Washington Redskins/Dallas Cowboys relationship in their intensity. The image of the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough flailing away at each other in the infield after the 1979 Daytona 500 is indelibly burned into our brains.

In one of the very first Darlington races I attended, I sat next to a devoted Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan who saluted Rusty Wallace with a particular finger at each and every lap, for the entire 367-lap race.

In 2003, when Kurt Busch’s car ran out of gas in front of Jimmy Spencer’s hauler on its way to the garage, we were treated to the sight of Busch being rear-ended by Spencer’s car, and then, as he leaned into Kurt’s car and allegedly punched him in the face, to the sight of Spencer’s literal rear end. That’s a hard one to forget.

At the end of last season, Jeff Gordon decided he was fed up with what he perceived as multiple on-track slights by Clint Bowyer, and deliberately wrecked Bowyer in the next-to-last race, in Phoenix, at a time when Clint was still mathematically eligible to win the championship. The resulting melee involving both drivers and their pit crews was one for the record books.

This year, a couple of former teammates have been going at one another both on and off the track, as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have become the most high-profile feud du jour.

The disagreement between the two talented young drivers first got fired up at the Daytona 500. Apparently Hamlin — Logano’s former teammate — was trying to get close enough to Brad Keselowski — Logano’s current teammate — to give him some drafting help. After the race, Hamlin reached out to Keselowski via Twitter, saying, “Sorry I couldn’t get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time.”

Logano responded with, “I remember when you were MY genius teammate.”

And just like that, the feud moved from the track to the information superhighway.

The tension between the two drivers reared its head again at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 17, when Hamlin spun Logano out with 150 laps remaining in the race. Joey confronted Denny after the race, and the by-now familiar team altercation ensued. It has become so ubiquitous at this point that it should really have its own dance name: the Pit Crew Scuffle. Logano, apparently dissatisfied with the outcome, tweeted, “Hey Denny Hamlin, great job protecting that genius brain of your by keeping your helmet on.”

Twitter is funny sometimes. It kind of reminds me of the notes my friends and I passed as schoolgirls back in the day. The only line that seems to be missing from the witty repartee between these two passionate, genius racers is, “I know you are, but what am I?”

A friend of mine commented yesterday that when you add up all Hamlin’s issues so far this season, he might be in danger of a Charlie Sheen-style meltdown. The problem with that is that although passion is great, when it is focused in the wrong direction it can distract us from the thing we want most, and in the case of NASCAR, even Charlie Sheen knows what that is.

Winning. Duh.

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