‘HAVE AT IT’ BUSTS ‘PLASTIC DRIVER’ MYTH

Atlanta, March, 2010 – A brewing feud between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski boils over when contact from the Ford of Edwards sends the Dodge of Keselowski airborne at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
 
Long Pond, June, 2010 – In the season’s first race at Pocono, Joey Logano wrecks after contact with Kevin Harvick. The 20-year-old Logano warns he’s going to “(freakin’) kill” Harvick for the incident, and the young driver’s father enters the fray. Ironically, this happens while Joey opines that the wreck isn’t Kevin’s fault because wife DeLana “wears the fire suit” in the family, the first of a few scuffles involving the once-thought-to-be mild-mannered youth.
 
Joliet, July, 2010 – A pair of polar opposites engage in a war of words when the volcanic Juan Pablo Montoya takes exception to the way he is passed by NASCAR elder statesman Mark Martin in a battle for 15th place in the race at Chicagoland Speedway. Martin makes it a point to pay a quick visit to Montoya’s hauler where a spirited exchange takes place. Montoya offers Martin “smart driving lessons,” while Martin proclaims he doesn’t have to “take no ****” in rather un-Martin like fashion.
 

These three incidents are to say nothing of the high profile skirmish between former champion Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton, held by many as one of the sport’s most respected drivers late in the season. Let us also not forget the Kyle Busch- David Reutimann tussle. You expect Shrub to mix it up, but Reutimann?
 
There are a lot of opinions thrown around on the web about all that seems to be ailing the NASCAR Sprint Cup series after a run of mercurial success. Everything from cookie-cutter cars to cookie-cutter drivers is to blame. Cookie cutter drivers? Are you serious? What series are you guys watching?
 
A meaningful and serious discussion may be had on a number of issues facing this sport, and might I add numerous others not known as football in this present age. I can promise you there will be more to talk when it comes to “brand management,” as far as manufacturers, sponsors, and even NASCAR itself is concerned. Times are changing, and they’ve been changing for some time now. What really has not changed is the driver.
 
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya have been pistols since Day One. Anyone who has followed NASCAR for more than five minutes knows Jeff Gordon has an inner pugilist. Neophytes such as Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are showing they won’t be pushed around. For all the rest, it just seems they needed to know that they wouldn’t have to open their wallets every time they traded paint with a competitor for position and respect. You know something’s up when Ryan Newman shows more spunk than teammate Tony Stewart. By the way, if you’ve listened to much of Smoke’s radio these days, you know the fire hasn’t gone away.
 
Now you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned the name Jimmie Johnson. Oh sure, there was a race where he and Kurt Busch did a little bumping and running, and heck, the champ even got dumped by Montoya in a mid-summer race. Yet with that, and other incidents, you never hear him really blowing his cool. You may call it blandness; I call it a champion employing one of his trademark traits: coolness under fire. If you want to talk about “ginned up drama,” that would be it. I call that a driver being who he is, and that’s what I want from the guys is authenticity.
 
So, critics, feel free to exercise your First Amendments rights (as if you need encouragement). This commentator will be the first to say there are changes to be made to make the sport better. A bonus for the season’s standings leader, the abolishment of the damnable “Top 35” rule, and a return to Darlington for Labor Day weekend are three very easy fixes. By the same token, it’s time to get off the arguments that have no more traction than a Yugo on Donner Pass in December. One of my chief beefs with a lot of you old-timers is the hoo-ha over a “foreign” make in NASCAR, and then of course, this idea that the sport has no personality.
 
One could argue NASCAR may have too much personality. As my journey as a fan continues, I find there’s a lot of so-called “nice guys” that aren’t so nice, and then there’s some “bad boys” I once loathed that I actually think are pretty cool now. The 2010 season proved to be a very enlightening experience. NASCAR may lack some of what makes other sports great, but what it does not lack is personality – for better or for worse.