Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | July 12, 2011

Hail to the Bad Boys

It’s time to quit worrying about corporate image and celebrate the NASCAR drivers who bring passion, thrills and fans to the sport.

Within a one-week span this summer, a four-time NASCAR champion claimed an historic victory and a young driver got beat up by one of the sport’s legendary owners.

Guess which event we’re still talking about?

Kevin Harvick

 Congratulations and all to Jeff Gordon, whose June 12 win at Pocono was the 84th of his career, tying him for third on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

But what we all really want is details on the smackdown that Richard Childress gave Kyle Bush after the June 4 truck race. How mad was Richard? Did Kyle put up any fight before doing his turtle impression after Childress popped him? Where the heck is the YouTube video?

Details of the confrontation remain scarce, but even today it fascinates race fans. Heck, even non-NASCAR folk were talking about it. And that’s precisely why we need more.

Now I’m not advocating violence. And pit-lane brawls every week sure would make it hard for race crews to get their work done. But that fight’s passion is exactly what’s in short supply at NASCAR.

So it’s time for the sport to fully embrace its bad boys.

NASCAR’s leadership is trying, as evidenced by its “boys have at it” message to encourage on-track rivalries back in 2010. But it’s only worked to a degree.

NASCAR’s reigning bad boy, Kyle Busch, has had some run-ins with competitors, most notably Brad Keselowski. But after some name-calling, which wasn’t even face-to-face, their feud fizzled.

Another brouhaha, however, seems to be brewing. It again involves Childress Racing and the younger Busch brother. This time, though, it’s Kevin Harvick who’s warning Kyle, through both some aggressive on-track moves at Pocono and post-race comments, that “he ain’t seen nothing yet.’’

You go, Kevin!

I applaud Harvick not just because I’m no Kyle fan, but because of all of today’s drivers, he’s the closest in spirit and action to NASCAR’s classic bad boys.

Harvick’s “Happy” nickname belies his intensity. Dale Earnhardt Sr. saw it; that’s why Ironhead personally selected Harvick as his successor. Now it’s time for Harvick to fully assume the Intimidator’s hard-driving, take-no-prisoners mantle.

He can start by pushing Kyle off the bad boy throne. While the #18 driver talks a big game, he’s merely a brat.

Harvick, however, has the age, edge and skills to be a real NASCAR bad boy. If he’ll just put his mind to it — and if NASCAR will let him — he can tick off a dozen or so other drivers the way Earnhardt did, rallying fans to his defense and foes to his castigation, and win a title at the same time.

Again, I don’t want to see anyone injured, on or off track. But NASCAR and its sponsors need to quit worrying so much about their corporate image. NASCAR’s roots are the rough-and-tumble moonshine bootleggers. They took chances but didn’t take guff from anyone. Let that type of guy have at it today. I’ll guarantee race fans will talk and, more importantly, watch to see what happens next.

Harvick is the latest in a long line of NASCAR bad boys. Here are some drivers who might give him a rousing run for the baddest boy title:

Juan Pablo Montoya is hungry to prove he can win as consistently in NASCAR as he did in IndyCar and Formula 1, and more of the fire he showed in open wheel would help. He is, after all, the guy who punted seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher in the tunnel at Monte Carlo. He showed some of that combative attitude back in 2007 with a pushing, shoving and helmet-grabbing incident with Harvick. More recently, JPM has retaliated against what he saw as on-track affronts by Ryan Newman. It looks like this bad boy is back!

Newman, known as “The Rocket” for his qualifying speed, also is pretty quick to let competitors know when he’s not happy. After his run-ins with Montoya, Newman didn’t hesitate to let him and the rest of us know that he “would take care of” Montoya. Ryan didn’t back down later, when he noted “there’s a lot of history in our sport with not being pushed around.”

Finally, there’s the owner of Newman’s car, Tony Stewart. Once upon a time, the two-time champ seemed poised to drive fans, his racing colleagues and NASCAR officials crazy with his no-holds-barred driving and attitude. Smoke seemed to always be on double secret probation for some transgression that occurred post-race as often as on the track.

But Stewart’s ownership aspirations have dampened the bad boy within. Now he’s toeing the sponsorship and financial lines to keep his operation running. Good for him, but too bad for us.

Tony, we miss the old you. Come back. NASCAR needs you!


LOOSE LUGNUTS

Give NASCAR the boot Racing series champs Tony Stewart (NASCAR) and Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1) traded cars in June for a couple of laps around Watkins Glen International, but the real winners could be race fans. The drivers maneuvered the extended route at the upstate New York track; it meant they drove the 0.95-mile boot section of the course. When NASCAR runs at the track, it doesn’t use that section. But after getting to drive it, Stewart proclaimed himself a fan of the longer course. “I think it would create more passing opportunities, for sure,” Stewart said. Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen, told the Sporting News that he plans to lobby NASCAR about running the full course.

Why F1 costs so much If you’ve ever been to a Formula 1 race, you know the tickets can be wallet-explodingly expensive. F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone is a notorious workaholic who lives a relatively simple life, but the same cannot be said for his youngest daughter, the 22-year-old Petra Ecclestone. Petra, whose only job is being a socialite, is buying the most expensive house in the United States — the 100-room, $150 million Los Angeles mansion originally built by TV mogul Aaron Spelling. L.A. is too far from her favorite stores and nightclubs, though, so Petra plans to stay in her $75 million London house and use her new California crash pad only part-time. Keep that in mind when you melt your credit card for tickets to that new F1 race in Texas next summer.

Texas two-step stumbles Where do I begin to talk about how wrong the Texas IndyCar race in June went? The much-hyped two races in one night concept could succeed, but it needs work, a lot of work. Let’s start with the obvious, the drawing for a starting spot in the second race. It was grossly unfair to put a championship at the mercy of a track gimmick. The racers should have started the second race in reverse order of where they finished the first one. At least they should have gotten points for each car they passed in the second race. Also a big mistake was the hour break between the two races. Really? You needed all that time to roll out the trailer with rotating tires? C’mon Texas Motor Speedway, you’re better than that.

Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.

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