- With $$ and fan support slipping, NASCAR can use personality conflicts
- The latest is Jimmie Johnson vs. Jeff Gordon
- NASCAR told drivers in the off-season to police themselves
Even as sponsors bail and fan support wanes, the first quarter of the 2010 NASCAR season has been remarkable and, at times, wildly entertaining.
From February's potholes at Daytona to Sunday's green-white-checkered at Talladega, the Sprint Cup series that descends upon Richmond this week has rarely lacked for headlines, some technical, others personal.
We'll leave the aerodynamics of wings-versus-spoilers to the gearheads out there. Besides, such calculations aren't nearly as enticing as the human drama.
Which is precisely what NASCAR chieftain Brian France and his henchmen envisioned in preseason when they, in essence, told their drivers to police themselves. Nothing like a little frontier justice at 150-plus mph to spice up the show, ey?
Sure enough, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, at odds since their 2009 collision at Talladega sent Edwards' car flying, reunited this year at Atlanta.
"It's not cool to wreck someone at 195 miles an hour," Keselowski deadpanned after Edwards' nudge from behind sent him airborne three laps from the finish.
NASCAR didn't seem to mind, slapping Edwards with a meaningless three-race probation, the most toothless sanction since Dean Wormer put Delta Tau Chi on "double secret probation."
Such foolishness can be harrowing at larger tracks such as Atlanta and Talladega. But when the green flag drops for Saturday's 400-lapper at the more confined Richmond International Raceway, the drivers can pretty much have at it.
Nine events into the 36-race season, all of these moving parts have produced a leaderboard far different than last year's.
Sure, four-time defending champion Johnson leads the points and boasts a series-best three victories. But among the top 12, the number who make the season-ending championship Chase, half didn't qualify in 2009.
Out from last season are Edwards, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Juan Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.
That said, don't risk a nickel on Earnhardt, Bowyer or Burton making the playoffs, simply because none wins consistently.
Conversely, Edwards and Stewart, 13th and 14th in points, respectively, are more than capable of collecting checkered flags by the handful.
Confession: His years-long slump notwithstanding, I hope Earnhardt makes the Chase. Absent the TMZ headlines, he is racing's Tiger, a presence who drives ratings when he contends.
Better yet, Earnhardt speaks his mind, albeit with a salty drawl.
His take, as reported by NASCAR.com, on the Johnson-Gordon tango: "You can't fault them for being so damn good they keep running into each other. ... They're just really good, and they end up meeting each other up front toward the end of a lot of these finishes. … Everybody's going to butt heads once in a while, but they joke around about it during the week. It ain't no big deal."
NASCAR hopes Junior is mistaken. NASCAR these days needs all the big deals it can get.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
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