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Random Lugnuts: Kyle Busch and Hockey

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Stock Car Racing What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Kyle Busch and Hockey

Bill Crittenden
16 March 2017


Yeah, it's been a while since I've kept up with what's been going on in NASCAR, and a lot longer since I've seen something worth reacting to.

The Kyle Busch-Joey Logano "fight" was finally it. Plenty has been and will be written about the fight itself, so my take is on the predictable fan reaction to Kyle's involvement and the lessons NASCAR could learn from the NHL.

Kyle Busch, the Red-Headed Stepchild of NASCAR

Immediately after the fight Twitter lit up with insults and invective directed at Busch, along with calls for suspensions, fines, or worse.

Kyle threw the first punch. That's not my style, but I have to admit it took guts to take a swing at a driver surrounded by his own crew. Not much brains, but a lot of guts.

The incident, like Tony Stewart's incident in Canandaigua, shows how the color of the jersey in sports matters more than anything in our assessment of an incident.

Let's take an example from hockey. Blue team vs. red team. Guy on the blue team delivers an excessively hard hit to a guy on the red team. The red team fans scream out for a penalty call, while the blue team fans shrug and say "if you can't take a hit, get off the ice."

Take the exact same hit later in the game, and reverse the colors. The fans, of course, reverse their opinions as well to match the change in circumstances. Suddenly the blue fans are mad and the red fans are okay with players trying to take opponents out of the game.

The same thing goes on in racing. After Canandaigua, Tony's fans said "dumbass should have stayed in his car, that's what happens when you don't." They conveniently forgot that they loved Tony in part for his fiery passion, a reputation gained in part from a incident after incident which included trying to reach into a moving race car and more recently throwing his helmet at a moving car less than a yard away.

Suddenly, after years of being totally okay with drivers getting out and getting angry and occasionally throwing helmets & running at the cars of drivers who wrecked them as they passed by under yellow, now getting out of the car was tantamount to suicide? Are you fucking kidding me?

Sadly, they were not. Because sports fans often only see right and wrong in terms of who was involved.

At the time I said to imagine if Kyle Busch had run over Dale Earnhardt Jr. You know damn well that NASCAR fans wouldn't have rushed to his defense en masse, and that had Kyle made it out of New York in one piece his career would have been over; he'd probably still be in hiding for his own safety to this day.

Kyle Busch, unfortunately, suffers from "being on the wrong team" to a lot of NASCAR fans. Literally, ever since he began his Cup career with Hendrick Motorsports. That was Strike One.

Strike Two was being a kid from Las Vegas. Yeah, I know that he was from Las Vegas before he drove for Hendrick, but I'm going in order of fan awareness. First the fans learned who the new Hendrick driver was, and then they hear he's from Vegas. Cue a paraphrasing of Days of Thunder: "he's a Yankee?" "Nah, when you're from Nevada you're not really anything." "You said it."

Strike Three is another instance of being literally on the wrong team when he became the top driver for Toyota. Let's not ignore the fact that NASCAR fans tend to lean a certain direction on some issues, and Toyota will never be welcome to many in the grandstands at NASCAR races.

So Kyle never had a chance with a huge contingent of NASCAR fans. Of course thought experiments like the one in Canandaigua only go so far, it requires the fan you're talking to to actually think about things instead of react to feelings.

One old school NASCAR fan in particular did finally give Kyle a chance after getting his driver's license suspended doing 128mph in a Lexus LF-A. After ranting about being Kyle being irresponsible and endangering lives, I reminded him of some of his favorite Dale Earnhardt stories. I asked him what he would say to Dale if he were caught doing 128 in an LF-A, and to his credit he answered, "only one-twenty-eight?" He's mellowed about Kyle because he recognizes that under the M&M's firesuit with the Toyota logo on it is a driver who wheels a car a helluva lot like his hero did three decades ago.

But most fans, sadly, have not given Kyle that chance. So cue the cries for suspension and punishment and even arrest in a sport where the sanctioning body and most fans are proud that their introduction to most America was a fistfight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough.

Lessons from Hockey

This is where hockey comes in. Again.

Hockey accepts fighting to a certain degree provided that players adhere to a few basic rules that keep the fights from resulting in long term injury. These rules are laid out ahead of time so that reactions to aren't based on the NHL's mood on a given day or the players involved. The refs know the lines not to be crossed, as do the players.

And quite a few folks are comparing NASCAR's need for a consistent guideline on fighting to hockey. Brad Keslowski was asked about the incident and tweeted "IMO-Fighting in Motorsport is dumb. It always turns into a pile and your own guys hit each other. At least in hockey they are good at it. 🤣"

He didn't make the connection specifically but he got close. One of the major rules in hockey is no scrums. One-on-one only, because when someone goes down while two or three people are fighting over a player on the ice is when fingers get cut off by skates.

I don't recall the exact race but wasn't there a fight where DeLana Harvick was almost run over by a runaway pit box when the crew let go of it in a scuffle?

So it has to be one-on-one. Drivers only. Especially since it's easier to suspend crew members without fans complaining and sponsors being affected. Crew members are expected to stand aside like hockey teammates do on the ice successfully night after night. If not, they're not going with the team to the track for at least a few weeks.

What else? Dale Jr. said "Yep. When you are mad you do stuff like that. But no matter how justified/pissed you feel, maybe it's best to do it off camera." Maybe that sort of behind-the-hauler version of taking someone out to the wood shed was okay back in the old days but 1.) everybody has a camera now (thanks Jeff Gluck!) and 2.) despite fighting on the ice hockey players maintain their reputation as gentlemen because after the game it's left on the ice and they don't fight in the hallways on their way out of the stadium.

There needs to be a set time limit and set physical boundaries for NASCAR fights. Matt Kenseth's attack on Keselowski last year was probably over the line on both counts. But that doesn't mean a driver can just skitter off to the haulers and avoid consequences for shitty driving. Have you ever seen a hockey fight start within the first minute of a game and wonder what they did to piss each other off? Well, whatever it was it probably happened the last time those two teams played. Drivers can't hide in their haulers forever.

Oh, and obviously it has to be out of the cars, nothing in the hands, gloves off. And no jumping on a guy when he's down: once someone is knocked down it's over. Both drivers will make an appearance in the infield care center and the NASCAR trailer - separately - to cool down.

Sponsors and fan reactions should keep NASCAR from becoming a goon's sport. In hockey there are a few tough "enforcers" who aren't afraid to drop gloves to protect their teammates but few real goons anymore, because fans tend to want to leave the Charlestown Chiefs antics to late night Netflix where their kids won't see it.

I'm betting that Mars is justifiably pissed after last weekend. They already pulled their sponsorship from Busch for a few races after an intentional wreck in a truck race in 2011. This time he started a fight with the M&M's logo in clear view. A call to Joe Gibbs should keep this from becoming a weekly event, but then maybe more fight-friendly sponsors will step in to save his career. In either case, that's the open market of fan reaction deciding the sport's direction rather than the force of the France family's decisions. Which I'm told repeatedly on Twitter is going to be the death of the sport.

These are just examples. The major point of this is that clear lines would be set. Stay in the lines and NASCAR won't have to make judgment calls that are bound to piss off more than they placate. They wouldn't have to consider who started it, who bled, whose team kicked whom. Stay in the lines and it's cool, more video for NASCAR's highlight reels. Go outside the lines and expect to miss races regardless of how it affects your championship chances or sponsor relationships. The threat of that immediate, harsh punishment will help keep the drivers within the set boundaries.

Of course the most egregious violations of the rules might have different suspension durations or even banning from the sport based on prior history, but having lines drawn where everyone can see will largely avoid this maddening "will they or won't they?" wait and debate between the race and NASCAR's consistently inconsistent rulings on such matters.

Prologue

NASCAR has acknowledged the fight and will not levy penalties against Kyle Busch. This is from Steve O'Donnell:

"After a full review of multiple videos and discussions with both competitors and their respective race teams, we felt Sunday's post-race incident does not warrant any further action. NASCAR was built on the racing that took place on the final lap by two drivers battling for position. The emotions of our athletes run high, and Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are two of the most passionate and competitive drivers in the sport. Both competitors are very clear on our expectations going forward and we will be meeting with them in person prior to practice on Friday in Phoenix." Source


Mars (the company that makes M&M's) was predictably unhappy with Busch and released their own statement:

The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of Mars Chocolate North America. While we are disappointed with the situation, we hope the drivers and team members involved learn from this experience and continue to grow as professional athletes representing the sport.


I'm glad to see that a sanctioning body that sold itself on that kind of raw emotion since the days of Allison and Yarborough is going to let this little scuffle slide. But it's time to lay out the guidelines for this sort of thing going forward, especially as the hot-headed Logano might be looking to return the favor at some time in the near future either with his fists or his Ford's bumper.

Considering that Busch doesn't see himself as the instigator (yes he took the first swing but he sees that as retaliation for the on-track incident) he won't take Logano's "retaliation" kindly. This could escalate quickly, and NASCAR needs to get proactive and not reactive before someone does permanent damage and the leniency shown this week is seen as condoning the escalation.



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