A kinder and gentler NASCAR? Seems that way

Topic around the watercooler this week is where have all the bad boys gone? Marty Smith writes in Door-To-Door that we're seeing a kinder and gentler NASCAR.

Updated: April 5, 2007, 1:30 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

An old childhood buddy included me on a group e-mail this week that chastised today's Nextel Cup drivers for their unwillingness to wreck a competitor to win.

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He actually questioned whether they'd all been castrated. "What happened the 'wreck 'em to win attitude of yesteryear'?" he pondered. This is verbatim (and hysterical):

"Jeff Gordon gets out of his car all pissy because he finished second. ATTENTION JEFF: Come by the NASCAR hauler to pick up your b---s before you go home. Don't get mad. You could have won if you had a set."

He then said that NASCAR has a problem that's going to ruin the sport: Nowadays everybody races like a bunch of sissies.

He's an Earnhardt fan. Of all the completely insane Earnhardt fans out there, he is the most rabid I've ever seen. He had the vanity plate, a wall full of die-cast cars and a flag flying off the side of his house way before NASCAR was cool.

In his estimation the Earnhardt way is the only way, and Big E would wreck his momma to win.

That's what made Earnhardt Earnhardt. No remorse.

And while I tend to disagree with his assessment -- the way I see it anybody can dump somebody; "I can't drive a nail, but I can sure as hell wreck somebody else" -- my buddy did spark an intriguing debate at the watercooler the following night. The argument: Given how meaningful regular-season victories have become under the new Chase format -- 10 points per come Lap 400 at Richmond -- just how much did the patience and grace with which Jeff Burton and Gordon raced in the past two weeks cost them?

Tough to call it. But it could be huge.

Dale Earnhardt
AP Photo/Terry RennaDale Earnhardt understood what "spin to win" meant, and he wasn't afraid to do it.

When NASCAR changed its format, I think it counted on drivers being less willing to settle for second place. I personally don't believe Burton or Gordon "settled." They both raced hard, but clean. Like my buddy, tons of fans would have rather seen them wreck another driver for a win.

But here's the deal. In NASCAR, karma will tear your heart out and crush it like a cigarette butt.

Hypothetical: Later on down the road somewhere, Jeff Burton might be the leader and Kyle Busch could be the last car on the lead lap, fighting like hell to stay there. He might remember the way Burton raced him at Bristol and move on over, or at the very least not make Burton spend precious laps trying to make the pass.

That probably sounds sissified to those who think rubbin's racin' is the end-all creed. Those folks make me nauseous.

But the fact is, these days the Golden Rule is racin'.

Smoke Scream
Wanna hear Tony Stewart scream like a schoolgirl? Pony up some cash and it'll happen. Stewart said last week on his Sirius radio show that if someone raised $100,000 for charity he'd wax his infamously furry bod.

The guy looks like a bear rug. Seriously.

Well, guess what? Kevin Harvick took the deal, and has begun a fund-raising effort on his Web site. Classic. In return, Stewart said he'd throw in another $100,000 if Harvick would shave his receding dome. Even better.

To donate to Operation: Smoke Scream (that's not an official name; I made it up. Official name is Operation: Wax Smoke!) go to kevinharvick.com.

Chop's Line of the Week
"Hendrick Motorsports' cars are so fast a caveman could drive them."

Marty,

Love your stories and answers to all the e-mails. My question is what is the tire guy doing to the tires with the propane torch after they come off the car after a pit stop?

-- Kevin, Glen Burnie, Md.

Great question, Kevin, this is one of those oft-unmentioned little oddities that can have a substantial impact on the race car. Following a pit stop, the tire specialist takes a propane torch, heats up the built-up rubber at a pre-determined place on the tire, and scrapes it away with a putty knife, revealing the tire's surface.

He then takes an electronic gadget resembling a stopwatch and measures the tread-depth at five specific locations across the width of the tire. Teams measure this when the tire is brand new, then check it again after it is run to determine tire wear. This also enables them to monitor camber -- the angle at which the tire meets the track surface.

Marty,

What gives with Washington state? If they don't want us, I say the hell with them. We'll go somewhere that wants us. Kentucky wants a race and they deserve it.

-- John Jacobson, Birmingham, Ala.

Kentucky Speedway desperately wants a Nextel Cup race, but NASCAR has no intention of taking the Cup Series there, John. The schedule is already oversaturated, and they're after the biggest media markets the country can offer.

As for Kitsap County, Wash., I agree with you. We don't need them. That's not to say we don't need the market, because the entire industry would benefit from a stronghold in the Pacific Northwest. But that specific county? Why bother?

ISC executive Grant Lynch, the leader of International Speedway Corp's initiative in Washington and president of Talladega Superspeedway in his spare time, explained to me that the more ISC gave the more local legislators took. He said ISC would make a concession and legislators would then ask for two more.

"Eventually we decided it wouldn't matter what we did, they were just going to keep on taking," Lynch said. "We couldn't continue down that path."

ISC will now search for a new plot. But not before it's guaranteed political support.

"I'll tell you, we'll need political support from the bottom-up, top-down before we get aggressively involved in another site," Lynch said. "We will have to know, for sure, that we have local political goodwill.

"When you're dealing with people that didn't understand the broad-based support, or were unwilling to recognize it, it got frustrating that we couldn't get quite where they wanted to be."

Hey Marty,

What is your favorite "roll the windows down and crank it up" song of the summer? Mine currently is "This Ain't a [Scene]" by Fall Out Boy.

-- Cindy, Cincinnati, Ohio

Very difficult question, Cindy. I love "Settlin' " by Sugarland. And how great is "Ticks," by Brad Paisley? My man says he wants to check his girl for ticks. I love it.

The surprise of the year, to me, is Chris Daughtry from "American Idol." That dude has a killer sound.

Marty,

With all the issues that Goodyear has had this year with tires, do you think Hoosier or another tire company might be looking to get in on the action? If so, how many drivers might drop the good ship Goodyear?

-- Tim, Parkersburg, W.Va.

First of all, Tim, you can't put all the blame on Goodyear. For example, at Vegas when it took heat, it had no recourse but to bring a hard tire. The hardest ever, in fact. Track officials at Las Vegas Motor Speedway made the decision to change the track surface without consulting NASCAR, its teams or drivers, or Goodyear. What are they supposed to do?

Moreover, Goodyear just signed a five-year contract extension to remain the exclusive tire provider for NASCAR competition through the 2012 season.

Marty,

Why do the Cup cars no longer have impound races?

-- DynoDon, Las Vegas

No one bought into it, Don. The teams felt it wasted precious time, and the tracks felt like it took away from their Friday crowds and provided no pole sitter to jump-start the weekend media coverage. I don't disagree with either assessment.

That's it. Time to go find the Easter Bunny. My son was utterly terrified of ol' Peter Cottontail last year. This year he might just smack him in the mouth.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

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