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WAID’S WORLD: Fisticuffs Part Of NASCAR, Nothing New Here

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Fights, dust-ups, physical confrontations, whatever you want to call them, they have always been a part of NASCAR and always will be.

I think the reason is basically simple: Drivers, crewmen and others who make their living driving fast cars or making them go fast have a keen sense of competition. They are dedicated to victory or, at the very least, doing the best job possible.

They do not like to be denied their goals. And when they feel that has happened due to the deliberate misdeed of another, they react.

They can’t help themselves.

Usually they do things like shout, cuss and call the offending competitor something far less than human.

But sometimes the ire spills over and things turn physical.

A fight can take many forms. Now, there’s not a Jackie Chan or Muhammad Ali in the garage area so scraps are never things of pugilistic beauty.

More often they consist of one or two punches (which almost never make contact) followed by chest bumping, grabbing and a melee after bystanders jump in.

Sometimes a duelist falls to the ground but almost as soon as that happens NASCAR officials are on hand to break up the combatants.

There have been instances when entire crews have gone at it. They converge into what looks like a mini-riot. It looks intense but it doesn’t last long. Their drivers are nowhere to be found.

As strange as this may sound fights can be good for NASCAR – especially if they are seen by a large television audience.

The best example of this is, of course, the 1979 Daytona 500. It was seen by millions thanks largely to the “perfect storm” that locked in snowbound viewers in the northeast.

That race would have been very dramatic if Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough had finished their intense last-lap duel.

Instead they wrecked down the backstretch, which ultimately allowed Richard Petty to take the victory.

Not long afterward CBS announcer Ken Squier blurted, “There’s a fight in the infield!” And the cameras caught Allison, brother Bobby (who had stopped to “check on Donnie”) and Yarborough going at it.

There was shoving, tackling, semi-chokeholds and leg grabbing. It looked more like a football scrimmage than a fight.

But millions had seen it. They had tuned in to, partly, find out what this NASCAR stuff was all about. Afterward they went slack-jawed.

That, and the resulting publicity, launched NASCAR into new heights of popularity.

You know that story. And you also know that no other episode of fisticuffs (or just plain belly thumping) has had as large an effect.

But make no mistake – it indeed has an effect. And it’s a good one for NASCAR.

After the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas social media – and let’s face it, the media itself – was lit up over the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano post-race fracas.

It was everywhere. Written reports, photos, video (a lot of that), reactions and opinions posted on Facebook, Twitter and everything else. It was presented from Yahoo to ESPN.

Even the guy who does my taxes, a NASCAR novice, saw it and called Atlanta “an exciting race.”

NASCAR can’t buy this kind of publicity. Yes, it’s a fight and undoubtedly it would prefer to have everyone buzzing about an intensely exciting race.

But it has to take what it can get, especially in today’s environment of dwindling interest and TV ratings.

I think that’s one reason why it took no action against Busch, the instigator who felt he was wronged.

Frankly, that is the right decision. My take has always been that the sanctioning body should stay out of physical confrontations because, if for no other reason, they are part of the sport and always have been.

However, there are exceptions. If one competitor uses a weapon in any form against another, NASCAR must respond.

And by weapon, cars are included here. Deliberately creating a wreck as a form of retaliation must be dealt with severely. Lives are at risk.

As we’ve seen, NASCAR has responded harshly and appropriately in the past.

Of course, there are mitigating circumstances that could force NASCAR to take action where it normally would not.

But they have been, and will be, rare.

Remember the phrase NASCAR CEO Brian France uttered years ago when he wanted to make clear the shackles were being taken off the competitors: “Boys have at it.”

What we saw at Atlanta will happen again.

It is inevitable.

Therefore, stay the course.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.