NASCAR's new approach working for drivers and fans

NASCAR fights

Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

NASCAR officials break up a fight between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton as seen on the Sprint Vision screen in the infield after an incident in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7, 2010. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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by GEORGE RIBA

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WFAA

Posted on April 14, 2013 at 10:10 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 7:23 AM

FORT WORTH — Confrontations in motor sports are nothing new. Emotions can build when drivers are cooped up inside their machines for hours. Once they get out, anything can happen. It's been going on for years.

"Yeah, I noticed there has been a lot of violence at my workplace lately," said NASCAR driver Carl Edwards. "It's just really hard to express yourself from inside of a car so when you get out, it's all built up and you just go for it."

Fighting has been a part of NASCAR ever since they began racing. One of the most famous altercations happened at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500 between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough.

"Those are some of our greatest highlights," said Robin Pemberton, vice president of NASCAR competition. "Rivalries have always been something that have been important to the sport."

Pemberton introduced us to the current approach of letting drivers settle their disputes among themselves. "I think giving it back to the drivers and letting them handle it has been good for us," Pemberton said.

Fans seem to agree.

"I think it's testosterone at its highest," said NASCAR fan Sherry Cabrera.

"If you get the best of me on the track, I’ll get the best of you out here," fan Ralph Pittman said. "You know, like here we go. Put ‘em up. Let’s go!"

"It just makes it more exciting, like hockey, that they don't have to hide what they're feeling," added NASCAR fan Kathryn Lebras.

"I will tell you those fans in those grandstands, they love to see excitement," said ESPN NASCAR analyst Rusty Wallace. "They love to see controversy and they like to see the drivers do what they want to do instead of being governed what they can say. NASCAR has learned that. They've made mistakes in the past by being too bossy with too many rules. They've backed off, and I think it has really helped personally."

"There was a point about five years ago when NASCAR got too 'politically correct,' let's say, where they were penalizing drivers every time they said the wrong thing, every time they shoved another driver, anything was becoming a penalty and fans didn't like that," said Terry Blount, who covers motorsports for ESPN.com.

When fans come to the track, they want to see lots of action. If it’s on the track, that's great, but if it’s off the track, sometimes that can be even more interesting.

"Well that's for post-race use only, so we'll see if we can a couple of them to mix it up," said Texas Motor Speedway Eddie Gossage before the race.

"I'm on board with it when I'm not a part of it and the ratings, you know if people are talking about it," said NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. "When you're on the outside looking in, it’s always great. When you get the benefit from it, and not be a part of it, it's the best thing."

"To be able to get out there and show raw emotion and race hard is real important," said NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. "The fans need to see that. The fans want to see that. But I think you've also got to carry yourself with respect and treat people the way you want to be treated."

"I don't think fans want a sterile environment," added five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. "They want some trash talking. That's the part we want, but we don't want broken backs. We don't want drivers injured and issues like that, so it's a fine line that our sport walks, and all sports walk."

"I think you're seeing a lot of passion," NASCAR driver Carl Edwards said. "You're seeing guys that really care, and I think that's always been a part of this sport."

On Saturday night Kyle Busch won the NRA 500 fair and square, and when it was over, there wasn't a single fight in sight.

"We've got a handle on this thing," Busch said. "You know, we're pretty good at what we do, and you know, there's a winner every weekend and there are 42 losers every weekend and so you just try to do the best you can."

And live by a code that somehow keeps the drivers satisfied.

E-mail griba@wfaa.com

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