My Brain on NASCAR: Things heating up on Mosh Pit Road

col-cathyelliottPoor NASCAR. What’s a sanctioning body to do when the one thing it has worked so hard to distance itself from is also the one thing your garden-variety sports fan is really interested in seeing?

Yep, I’m talking about fighting.

I realize there is a case to be made for enjoying sports for its own sake, for things like the sheer beauty of watching a perfectly-hit ball sail over an ivy-covered brick wall, or a human gracefully taking flight like a bird toward a net suspended in air.

That sounds romantic and poetic and everything, but in reality it’s just a lot of blah blah blah. I suspect that most of you watch sports for the same reason that I do – to see my team beat your team, as mercilessly as possible.
In other professional sports like football and baseball, this is straightforward. Team A squares off against Team B, one of them defeats the other, end of story.

In NASCAR, however, forty teams compete at once, and things can get messy. The literal blink of an eye can take out half of the field and destroy cars worth up to $150,000 each. Forget Sonoco; adrenaline is the fuel that power this machine, and it can get mighty explosive.

The most recent example, of course, is the dust-up between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 12, Joey Logano injected some real interest and excitement into a mostly routine race when he lost control of his car on the final lap and wrecked Kyle Busch. The the two were fighting for fourth place at the time.

And that’s when things got interesting.

Let’s establish a couple of things before we go any further. First of all, “Man, I really don’t want to mess with that Joey Logano; he’s tough” is something said by no one, ever.

Second, if you’re going to knock a driver out of race contention, choosing someone whose last name is Busch is probably not the best idea. Chances are pretty much 100 percent that he’s gonna come after you.

And that’s exactly what happened. Kyle headed straight to the No. 22 pit stall after the race and threw a punch at Joey, which created the same type of situation you see when you buy a handful of fish food out of one of those outdoor shopping center vending machines and toss it in the pond. Logano’s crew piled on Busch en masse in their best impression of a mosh pit, bloodying him up a bit in the process, until officials intervened and broke up the fun.

It wasn’t exactly Yarborough versus the Allisons, but it was pretty interesting. The real shocker in all of this was the sanctioning body’s reaction. Back in the day, the two drivers would have been summoned to the hauler for a stern talking-to, but this time around, NASCAR shrugged.

“After a full review of multiple videos and discussions with both competitors and their respective race teams, we felt Sunday’s post-race incident does not warrant any further action,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“NASCAR was built on the racing that took place on the final lap by two drivers battling for position. The emotions of our athletes run high, and Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are two of the most passionate and competitive drivers in the sport. Both competitors are very clear on our expectations going forward and we will be meeting with them in person prior to practice on Friday in Phoenix.”

According to Logano, he and Busch have already discussed the scuffle.

“Obviously, we didn’t speak much there, so I got a chance to call him up … to be able to talk to him a little bit and at least tell my side of the story,” he said. “We’re going to have two sides to the story like there is all the time, but really the bottom line is we’re two passionate race car drivers. We’re two of the best in the sport that are going to go for wins that are aggressive, and we collided.”

Way to be humble, Joey.

Busch’s take on things? “That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it,” he said.

Way to be honest, Kyle.

What’s great about all this is that we’re still talking about it a week later. This week’s race is at Phoenix International Raceway. Phoenix is a short track … and we have a feud going … and March 19 happens to be my birthday, so I’m understandably excited. I have a feeling that my cake won’t be only thing that gets fired up.

Cathy Elliott is the former public relations director at Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, Desktop 500, and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough to Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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