What’s a NASCAR fight good for? – Yahoo Sports
Non-NASCAR fans have no idea that Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday’s race at Las Vegas thanks to Brad Keselowski’s wounded car with two laps to go. But there’s a decent chance those fans know there was a tussle after the race, even if those fans don’t know who Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are.
So it goes for NASCAR, a niche sport that moves to the mainstream of general interest morning shows and gets attention at the forefront of numerous sports media outlets when a car goes flying into a fence or when a driver attacks another driver. And while NASCAR isn’t in a position to be shying away from the attention the atypical events bring, it’s also unclear what the real impact of the increased exposure is.
This is, after all, the sport that went from a southern one to a national one on the heels of a 1979 Daytona 500 known more for the fisticuffs that happened off the track between the Allisons and Cale Yarborough than for who won the race (Richard Petty). The fight, seen by millions of snowbound people across the country, help spur NASCAR on an upward trajectory that lasted through the mid-2000s. Simply put, it’s impossible to ignore the role that physical violence played in the growth of the sport.
But if you think Sunday’s fight is going to spur another growth in popularity however small or short-term for NASCAR, you may be better off betting that a 16 seed will beat a No. 1 on Thursday and Friday in the NCAA Tournament.
Busch’s attack of Logano on Sunday joins a fight between Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose, a pit road kerfuffle with the teams of Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth’s tackle of Keselowski and John Wes Townley’s wrestling match with Spencer Gallagher as notable post-race confrontations over the last three-plus years.
If physical confrontation was a key to NASCAR’s success, the sport wouldn’t have been frantically chasing new viewers with a complete overhaul of its race formats entering 2017. The fights that have happened over the past few years would have been enough to buoy the regular fanbase and perhaps attract non-race fans who like to watch boxing and MMA.
Instead, it’s likely that many of those who only pay attention to NASCAR in the case of spectacular wrecks or awkward fights won’t have any desire to tune in when the Cup Series takes the green flag at Phoenix in six days. While the race after the fight between Gordon and Keselowski’s crews at Texas in 2014 had a ratings spike (largely attributable to NASCAR’s new elimination Chase format), TV ratings for the same Phoenix race gave back all of those gains in 2016.
And given that it was so easy to list off notable altercations in recent NASCAR history, it’s worth wondering if NASCAR fighting has become trite. Is it really necessary to throw punches after the third race of the season because of a last-lap incident? The Kobalt Tools 400 ain’t the Daytona 500.
Busch and Logano were simply doing their jobs while racing for third on the final lap around the wounded car of Keselowski. Was either of them supposed to lift and cede the position to his rival? The answer is, of course, no. Both drivers realize this, though Busch’s emotions blinded him from that realization as the smoke that emanated from his tires sliding down pit road dissipated.
While fighting has become all-too-common recently, anyone who dislikes Busch and his actions while wishing NASCAR was back to its rough and tumble ways of the 1970s and 1980s is a hypocrite. What he did on Sunday is a modern day example of the “it was better back in the day when drivers weren’t afraid to settle things among themselves” mindset that permeates much of a vocal portion of NASCAR’s fanbase. Even if it was totally unnecessary.
NASCAR action for the fight is also unnecessary. NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell indicated Monday morning on SiriusXM that the sanctioning body likely wouldn’t be issuing any penalties for the fracas. And NASCAR CEO Brian France said later in the morning on SiriusXM that the sanctioning body would also do what it could to prevent Busch from retaliating against Logano. Via NBC:
“There will be no retaliation,’’ France said. “That will not be happening. That’s not going to happen anyway. The drivers understand what we did a couple of years at Martinsville (suspending Matt Kenseth two races for wrecking Logano), that is unacceptable. So what happens on the track, good or for bad for one driver or another, that’s where it stays, and we move on to the next event.
“My guess is that Kyle and Joey will sort that out, and there really won’t be anything that we need to worry about down the road. If there is, we’ll deal with it.
Any penalties for what happened on pit road would unnecessarily extend the shelf-life of the incident and, once again take the scrutiny off the actions of the participants and onto the severity of the punishment.
But even absent penalties, France’s remarks also set up another quandary of sorts between NASCAR justice and NASCAR marketing. Not long after Busch went after Logano, Texas Motor Speedway was unsurprisingly using the incident to tout its ticket specials for its April race. And the track released a promo Monday afternoon — hours after France’s “There will be no retaliation” remark — with Busch’s threat for revenge.
Marketing creativity and social media impressions are about the only beneficiaries of this latest skirmish, however. If someone was to remake Edwin Starr’s “War” and ask what a NASCAR fight is good for in terms of the sport’s standing and appeal with those not already watching, the answer is still absolutely nothing.
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