Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 | 8:37 p.m.
If you put 15 NASCAR fans in a room and asked them for advice on how to improve stock-car racing, you would get 15 different answers. I often wonder if a prerequisite for being a NASCAR fan is some sort of gene that makes a person highly opinionated.
Changing the points system, dumping the Car of Tomorrow, reconfiguring tracks or doing away with NASCAR’s management are some of the common suggestions from fans. Then there’s always the fringe element that thinks the sport should go back to racing on the dirt with cars that arrived at the track straight from the showroom floor.
But one thing that’s missing from racing that would make the sport more exciting is rivalries. And there seems to be a few possibilities on the horizon for next season.
Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski had a little spat that could blossom into a full-blown rivalry next season when Keselowski come to Cup full time. Although Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya have downplayed the dust-up they had at the end of last season, there still is the possibility that we could see them rub a few fenders in 2010. And then there’s Danica Patrick. Although she won’t be in Cup next year, she definitely won’t back down when challenged as she races in the Nationwide Series.
I’d like to see some fender rubbing next season between drivers who have an ax to grind. But are there many drivers left who know how to use the front bumper with a little finesse? That assumes, of course, that a driver can get his hard-to-drive COT close enough to another car in order to rough it up. (But that’s a subject for another blog.)
I’m not interested in seeing someone forced into the wall. I just want good, competitive and physical racing by drivers who aren’t afraid to take a few chances. But if a driver uses a car too aggressively, then it’s nothing more than a weapon and the subsequent penalty from NASCAR could set a driver back so far that he’s uncompetitive for the day. Uncompetitive drivers don’t produce good racing.
And what would a rivalry be without some colorful language? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is trash talk. Kyle Busch can talk smack about a competitor and fans come unglued. But Dale Jr. can utter a few colorful words and fans go wild with approval. Either way, it’s entertaining and I think there’s a place for it. The drivers in the Cup series are currently too guarded with their words. Frankly, I think this is less the fault of NASCAR and more a symptom of drivers always being under pressure to represent their sponsors with sanitized corporate speak.
Let’s face it, the COT isn’t going to be radically changed anytime soon, tracks aren’t going to be ripped up and reconfigured overnight and the points system is here to stay for now. So some good, old-fashion rivalries would be a great way to put a little kick into next year’s season.