Four Words, Large Implications: How "Boys, Have At It" Changed The Complexion of NASCAR
When four certain words were uttered by NASCAR President Mike Helton during the Media Tour back in January, little did anyone within the sport realized how much of a game changer it'd be with the three major stock car series.
From the rough wheelin' ways of the Camping World Truck Series to the Fortune 500 "transactions" of the Sprint Cup division, fans and competitors were treated to some old school racing.
In contrast to the "olden days," these were with today's racers who had to adapt and embrace one of NASCAR's "policies," albeit as long as the heat wasn't directed at them.
Some folks point to the spoiler as a factor to the much more competitive racing in the Sprint Cup ranks, while others feel that that the competitors finally loosened up and realized they could speak their minds, verbally or by way of the chrome horn.
Particularly during the Chase, drivers displayed their emotions and frustrations much like the grassroots racing of a weekly racing division, banging, paint trading, and shoving each other out of the way at some of America's finest tracks. Witness:
- After slight contact just past halfway in the TUMS 500 at Martinsville in October, Jeff Gordon was sent spinning and crashing by Kurt Busch into the inside retaining wall on the frontstretch. Busch felt it was "vindication" for essentially all the wrong that the No. 24 team did to the No. 2 car in Martinsville and Bristol.
- Denny Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford went a bit John Lennon on their title rival counterparts in Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus at Texas, pitting ahead of them and essentially boxed them on pit road. This tactic slowed the No. 48 pit crew's times and thus got them the boot for the rest of the season.
- David Reutimann, perhaps irked by some comments by Kyle Busch at Bristol about how to drive, exacted revenge on him at Kansas Speedway, spinning out the No. 18 team and virtually eliminating him from the Chase.
- And of course, the Jeff vs Jeff near donnybrook at Texas Motor Speedway last month. No matter whose perspective, the end result displayed the most intense emotions by Jeff Gordon in recent years, showing he's not lost his desire to win.
Of course, "Boys, have at it" was prominent not only during the Chase but throughout the NASCAR season.
Who could forget Carl Edwards' two incidents with Brad Keselowski, including the March race at Atlanta in which his intentional tap sent "BK" from a spin into an aerodynamic nightmare? Within a matter of 10 seconds, the red No. 12 Dodge went from a multimillion dollar machine into a mangled mess for a museum.
There was also the Nationwide race at Gateway, in which some hard racing between Edwards and Keselowski for the checkered flag resulted with the same results as Atlanta: Edwards exacting revenge and Keselowski's Dodge looking more like a wounded sheet metal beast.
These four words even made someone as tranquil as Joey Logano into a bit of fits, especially after his wreck at Pocono in the June 500-miler. Logano was agitated and fuming after contact with Kevin Harvick.
The end result was brutal for Logano, which resulted in his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota crashing into the outside retaining SAFER walls. Following the race, the 2009 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year took the "Boys, have at it" motto to the next level, per Shawn Courchesne's "The Backstretch" blog via The Hartford Courant.
"I don't know what his deal is with me...it's probably not his fault, his wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do."
Sexist or not, the rather unexpected reaction from Logano in June resulted in one of the more comical moments for Harvick fans, especially when Kevin Harvick's wife Delana created a line of shirts that said, "I Wear The Firesuit in the Family."
Who knew that four words could make characters out of the most quietest of stars?
Naturally, the prominent racers who often dominate the headlines (the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart, Gordon, Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson) were expected to speak their minds when the policy was implemented.
However, it's refreshing to know that in a time that fans have felt that racers were too "vanilla," the powers that be at NASCAR actually recognized this flaw and well, let 'em rip.
Whether or not fans want to admit it, it's a unenviable position to be in the shoes of NASCAR President Mike Helton as well as NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France, who have steered the sport from the glorious years of the 1990s into the uncertainties of the early 21st century.
Most of their moves haven't exactly been embraced, such as the Chase, their TV package (for the old school fans at least), as well as the much maligned Car of Tomorrow.
In the grand scheme of things, those who have managed to persevere and still watch the sport are the ones who'll most benefit with what lies ahead for the sport.
Starting next year, the CoT gets a cosmetic "nose" job, with the splitters losing their braces and their "smiles," or the front end of the cars having a more smooth edge.
For the local, short track folks who barely make ends meet, their new SPEC engines will be provided by the prominent Robert Yates Racing Engines company, who'll surely crank it up at venues like South Boston Speedway, Motor Mile Raceway, and Evergreen Speedway.
An attempt to "liven" up the schedule was made as well, with Kentucky Speedway joining the Cup Series in July, Kansas Speedway gaining a summer race date, and Chicagoland serving as the kickoff to the 2011 Chase.
To say the least, all the signs are there that NASCAR is at least trying to show everyone that while it cannot rest on its laurels, it will do what it can to make the sport better.
With all the changes ahead for NASCAR's fans, media, and of course, the teams, crews, and drivers making up all of its series, next year might shape up to be one of the best yet in the sport's 63 years of operation.
So boys...and girls, have at it!