Tony Stewart was angry, vocal, and angry. (Did we mention that he was angry?) Thing is, the veteran NASCAR driver might've also been a visionary.
Let's face it, over the past few years, NASCAR ratings have been lagging and sagging. Television, ticket sales and corporate sponsorships have all waned. The sport has been in need of an overall turbo boost of popularity.
Hence, a couple years ago, the NASCAR suits (business suits, not race suits) announced a new policy fashioned around the longtime saying – "Boys, have at it." In other words, if the road rage carries over to the garage area (Ex: PIR 2012 – Clint Bowyer vs Jeff Gordon) or payback is exacted in punching each other instead of punching the gas pedal, well, boys will be boys.
As longtime Valley resident and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk tweeted on Monday: "Drama always attracts fans and viewers." Then, he tweeted that "@dennyhamlin is lucky to survive that crash and @joeylogano is lucky to survive @tonystewart."
Luyendyk is talking about the fireworks at Fontana on Sunday. After the checkered flag flew, so did the fisticuffs. Simply put, Stewart was more revved up than his race car. He left his four wheels behind for his own two legs and made a straight line for Logano. After a few attempted punches, crew members separated the two drivers. Then, Stewart brought the straight talk regarding the 22-year old Logano.
" He's sent Denny to the hospital and screwed our day up," Stewart said. "He's talked the talk, but he hasn't walked the walk yet. He's always got his crew guys walking the walk for him. He wants to talk about it? We'll talk about it."
"If NASCAR wants to let the guys have at it, it shouldn't be any different than hockey—let us have it and when one guy goes to the ground, it's over," Stewart said.
Hit the brakes right there! Maybe that's the ticket that will sell tickets. Tweak the mantra that states "have at it, boys" to read "stand back and actually allow the boys to be boys, I'll be gol-danged."
"After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we'll go at it now. I'm not going to listen," Stewart said. "I don't care what he has to say. It's just words right now. Actions speak louder than words."
And so do TV ratings. NASCAR's overnight TV ratings one week after Logano feuded with Denny Hamlin were up 32 percent, according to Fox.
What's that old business saying – see a need, fill a need. Well, with the NFL and NHL rapidly decreasing the violence and physicality in their respective sports, perhaps NASCAR needs to ramp it up?
Fans don't connect with metal. They don't bond with the vehicle itself. They share emotionally with other human beings – drivers.
At PIR last fall, I was covering NASCAR for ABC15. All of a sudden, the grandstands roared upon the sight of Bowyer chasing after Gordon on the big screens, with the media then chasing after Bowyer (I'm still winded).
As Brad Keselowski told the media this past week, a fight is the type of "water cooler conversation" fans relish.
"Whether it is joy or anger, that is what the fans crave," he said. "They want to see us be human, and humans are emotional."
Hmmm. Maybe Stewart has hit on something by essentially scribbling "hockey fight" on a slip of paper and stuffing it into the suggestion box.
Speaking of boxes, maybe the time has come for NASCAR to install a penalty box.