Driver feuds have been absent in 2011
We’re six races into the 2011 season and there is one burning question on every race fan’s mind: What the heck is wrong with NASCAR’s Sprint Cup stars?
Have they all gone soft over the winter?
Have NASCAR officials given them some kind of temper-controlling, aggression-soothing medication?
Was there some sort of secret memo changing “Have at it, boys” to “Cool it, boys?”
Have they all been neutered?
A season after NASCAR’s “have at it” policy created a season full of ever-loving chaos, NASCAR’s top drivers have been on their best behavior in the first six races, with little pushing and shoving and very few temper tantrums.
Last year there was practically a new feud every week, with driver after driver getting into it and stirring up a new rivalry. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
And in the most shocking and most heated confrontation of the year, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in a Texas-style standoff.
Gordon and Burton, two of NASCAR’s most mild-mannered and widely respected drivers, turned Texas Motor Speedway into the O.K. Corral while squaring off there in Turn 2 last November.
The series heads back to Texas this weekend, and everyone is talking about the Gordon-Burton feud.
Could it be rekindled?
Was it good for the sport?
Do even the drivers like seeing that sort of thing?
Does NASCAR need it to happen again?
The answers are: Probably not, yes, yes and yes.
“That certainly was unforgettable for me,” said Burton, who sparked the run-in when he ran into Gordon on the track and then accidentally wrecked him under caution.
“We've laughed about it several times. It was something in my career that I'm not proud of.”
The incident, which made highlight reels across the country, was arguably the highlight of the season. Or at least the one fans most remember, like the 1979 brawl between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers that put NASCAR on the map.
“It was exciting,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
“The fans want to see guys that are passionate about racing and passionate about what they do, and every once in a while you’re going to see stuff like that,” Carl Edwards said. “I think that’s just the sport.
“Those would have been about the last two guys I would have expected, but I think that made for a great story that day, and I respect the heck out of both of those guys.”
The frequent dust-ups and ongoing feuds added some much-needed spice to the 2010 season, giving the sport added drama and a soap opera-type feel at times.
But that added element has been missing this season.
The only real confrontation came at Las Vegas, when Robby Gordon allegedly took a shot at Kevin Conway in the garage, prompting Conway to file a complaint with local police.
Gordon and Conway, who are embroiled in a legal dispute over contracts and sponsor money, allegedly “had at it.”
But there were few witnesses to the incident, followed by a lot of he said-she said, leaving few sparks to ignite the incident.
And it was Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway, drivers who don’t exactly drive TV ratings and web hits.
Brian Vickers sniped at Matt Kenseth for a wreck at Phoenix, but Kenseth blew him off — refusing to take blame or apologize — and the issue quickly died.
The only other incident was a complete tease. Kyle Busch got into Edwards at Phoenix, causing Edwards to crash.
Edwards was not happy, made a few idle threats but basically let Busch slide, declining the opportunity to ignite a potentially explosive feud that has been brewing for a while.
Other than that, there has been little controversy and very few fireworks, leaving some otherwise good racing a bit unfulfilling.
NASCAR even got through Bristol and Martinsville, its two tightest short tracks, without tempers flaring and with nary a harsh word spoken.
NASCAR heads back to Texas this weekend for the first Saturday night race at Texas Motor Speedway. TMS President Eddie Gossage believes the night race might create some more fireworks.
“Strange things happen at Texas Motor Speedway and even stranger things happen at night,” Gossage said. “This is a track where we have seen a couple of the wives get into it on pit road and Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon wrestling around the apron in Turn 2.
“We see all kinds of crazy stuff happen, and that’s been in the daylight. Wait 'til the moon is out and the juices start flowing. This thing could be wild.”
The Burton-Gordon tussle last year will be hard to top, but TMS and NASCAR could use another fracas.
It’s time for the boys to get back after it.