Thursday, March 11, 2010

NASCAR Wants Rivalries, Well Here They Come And Thank Goodness!

by Micah Roberts

Jeff Gordon commented last week that NASCAR needs a few rivalries to get things going and stir up some excitement among the fans. He offered a few of his own natural thoughts like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch because they’re both high energy guys who wear their emotions on their sleeves and drive for competing manufacturers.

Gordon has been through the rivalry thing himself with Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt and it fueled the sport to new heights it had never seen. Kyle Busch is a natural with anyone and we’ve seen him tangle with Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr before but it didn’t last despite Busch trash talking.

Brad Keselowski has thrust himself into the fire quickly and isn’t making many friends. His battle with Denny Hamlin last year in the Nationwide series has spilled over into the Cup series and last week he and Edwards got into it pretty good. Keselowski bumped Edwards out of the race early in Atlanta. After Edwards got his car back on the track, he returned the favor sending Keselowski, who was running fifth, into the wall and eventually turning him upside down.

The pair have rattled each other before in the Cup series with Keselowski being the one that sent Edwards flipping at Talladega on the last lap of Keselowski’s dramatic win last season. Keselowski has a lot to prove before anyone can get excited, meaning he needs to win some more, but he definitely has the moxie to carry some smack.

After many people weighed in around the country on what Edwards penalty should be for purposely wrecking Keselowski’s car, NASCAR came with a bold statement and announced that Edwards would be put on probation for three races.

And that’s it! No suspensions, fines, point docking, or anything else. End of story!

Let the drivers police the action in their own way and do it old school in the manner the sport was born from. If a driver gets out of line, it isn’t going to take much for some for of the enforcers to show them how things are supposed to be done.

In the last decade or so, NASCAR has gone too mainstream and thought some of those actions were too graphic for their sponsors to handle, as if the purposeful action was going to prevent sponsors from signing on when the reality has always been that the fans like that activity and is why the sponsor is there in the first place.

NASCAR announced prior to the 2010 season that one of things they were going to loosen up on was penalties for drivers showing their emotions on their sleeves. Last week was the first real test to the new policies and NASCAR’s response was perfect and consistent with what they hope to get back to.

Had this been 2009, Edwards would have likely been parked for a race, but NASCAR should be applauded for continuing down a direction they started. They also seemed more concerned about the car flipping than anything else. It looked like the air got under that rear wing and took it sailing.

The last thing NASCAR wants is the fans or drivers to get hurt. In this instance, the last thing NASCAR wanted to do was send a wrong message that they weren’t serious about loosening up things. With the penalty being so lenient for Edwards, other drivers may follow right in line since the cat is out of the bag that it’s back to old school 1950’s racing where the dummies have to pay the price.

Knowing this, Keselowski has a lot to think about and it’s likely he won’t be so arrogant enough to knock someone out of the way again. Even if the bump was truly an accident, he’s built himself a little reputation in all NASCAR series as being aggressive and will definitely think twice before trying bullying way into position.

Based on the Edwards decision, this looks like it’s going to be an action packed fun-filled year with lots of battles and rivalries created along the way.

JJ Still Rolling
After 4 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series we have three drivers that have finished all four races within the top-10 and not surprisingly, all three are in the top-3 in points. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle have held off four-time champ Jimmie Johnson, who is fourth in points, in the early going in his quest to win five straight Cup Championships.

It’s still early, but it is something to be somewhat excited about, especially in today‘s NASCAR, or for that matter any era of NASCAR. For some reason NASCAR fans don’t like seeing greatness like we do in other sports.

We’ve cheered in awe with the great individual performances of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods as well as team sports when we marveled at the UCLA basketball, Boston Celtics, or New York Islanders dynasties. But for whatever the case may be, we can’t just sit back and watch history unfold before out eyes and watch Jimmie Johnson with amazement at what he’s done.

Nothing is new though. Before they were cool, NASCAR fans booed Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon because they won too much. While Waltrip and Earnhardt have become cult heroes or sorts, Gordon is finally starting to garner respect at tracks everywhere for all his great accomplishments.

Johnson looks to be the most complete driver thus far with his two wins and will likely win another title, but it’s good to see others being competitive. It’s especially encouraging to see two Fords at the top from Roush Racing after last seasons dive. It’s even more encouraging to see the Childress cars run strong each week after being shut out of the Chase entirely last season.

Johnson Nickname? posed a question last week attempting to give Johnson a nickname like many of the greats in the sport. Even some of the not-so-greats have nicknames like “Buckshot” Jones, but Johnson still doesn’t have one.

Snoop Dog called Johnson “Double J in the four-eight” during a Super Bowl party, but even that doesn’t have a ring like “Fireball”, “The Intimidator”, or the “The King”. The guy has won an unprecedented four straight titles, doesn’t he deserve a nickname that is becoming of his personality or traits?

Some say that’s just it, he really doesn’t have a personality. He doesn’t show emotions and is always cool under pressure. He’s like a machine who is oblivious to pressure. Those are the traits that could help get him some kind of moniker, but it has to be cool.

The closest I could think of for Johnson would be to call him “The Executive“ because the guy is all business and he goes about his business like a corporate executive. Everything he exemplifies has the feel of corporate America. His staff is efficient and lean who rarely makes a mistake and his product is maximized through efficiency which results in optimum results to the bottom line.

If you put this man in a suit, not a fire suit, he could fill the bill as top executive today. It’s likely not to catch on and the nickname will surely come in the next few years by something he does on the track, but time is running out and if something doesn’t stick soon he may just go down as being “Double J in the four-eight“.

Kurt Busch Not Off This Weekend
All three NASCAR series are off this week before returning at Bristol, but Kurt Busch isn't taking the week off. He'll be joining the NHRA in Gainesville, Florida for some drag racing. By the looks of his restarts last week in Atlanta, he ought to do pretty well. Busch will take his 1970 Dodge Challenger to the track against over 70 others in the Super Gas compeition where quarter mile times are in the 9.9-second range.

Busch spent 30 hours in Roy Hills drag racing school to get liscensed for the event. No odds will be offered on the race in Las Vegas, but there are always takers in the stands willing to bet match-ups.

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