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Want to Fix NASCAR? Start With the Drivers

By Toby Christie, Editor — Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie

Somewhere along the way our NASCAR drivers got soft.

Long gone are the days of Red Byron bouncing down a rut-filled clay short track with a leather helmet. So too are the days of Petty and Pearson literally crashing each other for a Daytona 500 victory, while Dave Marcis shined his wing tips. Cale, Bobby and Donnie’s epic fist fight that thrust NASCAR into a mainstream sport, seems like it would never be possible in today’s buttoned up sport. And Dale Earnhardt? Forget about it, no sponsor these days would touch him.

There was a time when NASCAR drivers were identified as badass editions of the everyday average joe. It was easy to identify with any one of the 43 drivers who waged war on race tracks from week to week, because they were just like all of us sitting in the stands or watching on television.

They all wanted to win as badly as we wanted them to win.

However, those rough and tumble raw human personalities were tossed in favor of today’s more polished spokesperson that happens to also hold a steering wheel on Sundays.

This past week at Texas Motor Speedway, Aric Almirola became the latest driver to voice frustration over being raced too hard by a fellow competitor. Almirola’s post-race interview coupled with replays of what he was upset with are cringeworthy.

“[Joey Logano] just went down in turn three and put it right on my door and about wrecked us both. I am not sure. I will have to talk to him. He just continues to make things harder on himself,” Almirola seethed. “If that is the way he wants to race me when he is already locked into Homestead and we are out here fighting for our lives, that is fine. When Homestead comes around if I am not in, he will know it.”

That was Almirola’s pointed take on what transpired. Let me correct his story and tell you what Logano actually did. Logano drove through the corner on the high side. He didn’t touch Almirola. He didn’t move Almirola. He was cleanly to the outside of the No. 10 Ford, and there was about a half car width of space between them.

At a narrow single-groove Texas Motor Speedway what more does Almirola expect Logano to do? Pull over since he is locked into the Championship 4 at Homestead? That’s ridiculous. This is RACING, these drivers are paid to race and their fans – what’s left of them these days at least — expect them to race.

This whining about people racing each other two hard has continued to worsen with each passing year in NASCAR, and it has gotten to a point where I’ve had enough. I’m not alone, Dale Jarrett – a NASCAR Hall of Famer – has also had enough.

“I don’t need to hear any more of that. This is racing. and the last I looked every driver is out there doing everything they can,” Jarrett said on NBC’s post-race show in response to Almirola’s interview. “First off, if you watch that he wasn’t on his door he was actually a little bit ahead. Second off, there’s only so much room in that corner to get there. If you go up any more than that you’re going to find yourself up there crashing. So, don’t complain about somebody getting on your door and racing you. It’s not up to him to help you achieve what you’re trying to do.”

Well said Champ, well said. Let’s rewind the clock for a moment. Can you imagine the backlash Jarrett would have received when he was ascending to stardom in the early 1990s if he would have complained that Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace or Bill Elliott were racing him too hard? He would have been laughed out of the sport.

That’s just what you did back then. You raced hard. And that’s what we should be celebrating week in and week out in 2018, hard racing. But instead the last couple of weeks the talk has been about how drivers are getting bent out of shape by being raced too hard.

We don’t need timid corporate pitch men who are afraid of going over the line. It’s killing the sport. And it’s alienating the fan base which is struggling to make ends meet. NASCAR needs daredevils who are willing to gamble and put it all on the line for the ultimate prize.

Will we ever get back there? For the sport’s sake, I sure hope so.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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