NASCAR without drama isn't NASCAR
LONG POND, Pa. -- Reporters began gathering behind the No. 31 hauler about 30 minutes before team owner Richard Childress was to appear Friday morning at Pocono Raceway. Driver Jeff Burton laughed as he fought through the growing throng, jokingly asking why everyone was outside of his traveling garage when he knew exactly why.
Childress finally emerged through the back doors at 10 a.m. as scheduled, quipping, "What's everybody doing?"
Once again, the drama off the track was taking center stage over what was happening -- or about to happen -- on the track. It has been that way for more than a month.
It began at Darlington, where Ryan Newman reportedly took a swing at Juan Pablo Montoya inside the NASCAR hauler while discussing an incident that occurred the previous weekend at Richmond. It continued at Dover, where the postrace, pit-road Darlington fracas between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick dominated headlines.
Then it moved to Charlotte, where Kyle Busch driving a street car 128 mph in a 45 mph zone was the focus.
It then exploded at Kansas Speedway, where Childress gave Busch a knuckle sandwich in the Truck series garage in retaliation for Busch damaging the right side of RCR driver Joey Coulter's truck with what Busch now calls a "congratulatory bump" during the cool-down lap.
And it continued in the middle of backwoods Pennsylvania, where Childress gave a brief, anticlimactic statement -- no apology again, by the way -- that pretty much echoed the written statement he gave on Monday, saying he let his emotions get the best of him.
Live on "SportsCenter," no less.
He didn't take questions, either, leaving us hanging as to how emotions got to the boiling point.
Drama, drama, drama.
Will it ever end?
Probably not. Let's hope not.
Be honest, isn't the drama half of what draws fans to NASCAR, or any sport? Would people be so intrigued with the NBA Finals if it wasn't for the drama LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh created with their little partnership in Miami?
Isn't drama why NASCAR uses the fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers following the 1979 Daytona 500 as a signature moment when promoting the sport?
Do we really care that for the first time since a change was made in 2005 drivers will be able to shift gears to get around Pocono? It's not like that will make Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has a 17.9 average finish here, a threat to win on Sunday and four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin insignificant.
It won't make this race seem any shorter, either.
"I like watching [the drama] as long as I am not involved in it," 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth said. "I never like being involved in that stuff, but it is a lot of fun to watch it."
And it gets people talking. It's why television shows such as "Jerry Springer" and "Real Housewives" survive.
Drama sometimes leads to ideas to prevent more drama. The Childress-Busch incident sparked one from John Bickford, the stepfather of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
Bickford suggests that NASCAR implement a rule that requires a driver to pay for any damages he might make to another car after the checkered flag. He suggests that had Childress known Busch would have to pay to repair Coulter's truck, the team owner would have been less likely to take off his rings, put Busch in a headlock and throw punches.
He suggests Busch may have been less likely to nudge Coulter's truck if Busch knew the repairs were coming out of his pocket.
"I just hate it when somebody, especially the caliber of Richard, is actually put under the amount of stress that would cause him to do something like that," Bickford said. "We're all professional people, but everybody has a breaking point.
"I just think we need to be smart."
Childress didn't give us an opportunity to ask how much last week's incident cost him outside of the $150,000 fine NASCAR handed him. All we know for sure is he had to fly body hangers and other personnel he hadn't budgeted to Texas to get Coulter's truck ready for Friday night's race.
If you're an owner or a crew chief, that is maddening.
"You've got to stop that eventually," said Tony Gibson, the crew chief for Ryan Newman's Cup team. "You're affecting guys and their livelihood. Don't hurt the crew members. Let the drivers rent cars or something like that and mess those things up like they did in 'Days of Thunder.'"
Steve Addington, Kyle's former crew chief and the current crew chief for Kurt Busch, once suggested to Montoya after he intentionally wrecked Busch at New Hampshire in 2008 that they settle their differences in motor homes.
I like watching [the drama] as long as I am not involved in it. I never like being involved in that stuff, but it is a lot of fun to watch it.” -- Matt Kenseth
"I told him, 'Don't go wrecking my race cars; my guys are the ones that have to fix it,'" Addington recalled. "He just looked at me like I was f---ing crazy."
It probably is crazy to think NASCAR can implement rules to stop the drama. They'd first have to find a way to eliminate the passion that makes grown men want to drive in packs at 200 mph, and that's not going to happen.
"Ask somebody that gets road rage or runs somebody on the highway was it worth it, they would probably tell you yes," RCR driver Clint Bowyer said. "After they paid for it they would probably tell you no. It's just one of those things. It's over with. We've got to look for a new story."
Or new drama.
There's always new drama in NASCAR. After this race last year it wasn't Hamlin's victory everyone was talking about on Monday. It was Joey Logano and Harvick confronting each other after the race on pit road.
Remember? That led to arguably the quote of the season with Logano saying, "I don't know what his problem is with me, but it's probably not his fault. His wife wears the fire suit in the family and tells him what to do."
But at least Logano and Harvick dealt with their issues outside the car. No crew member had to work overtime to repair the mental anguish Harvick must have felt from Logano's line.
To Busch's credit, he said he would have paid to fix Coulter's car had he known Childress was so upset. He also said, "if I didn't roll out of the throttle, we both would have crashed off Turn 4."
And while Bickford's pay-for-damages plan has its merits, not everybody would buy into it. Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, says Busch had every right to wreck Coulter during the race the way he saw the rookie driver pinch Busch into the wall. He applauded Busch for the restraint he showed.
"They're paid to have high emotions and care about what they do," Ford said of drivers. "If you want to make a perfect person, it's not going to happen. A little bit of a rub-up may have cost somebody a day's worth of work, but it sure added a lot of story to this.
"It brings the drama along for a small price."
There we are, back to the drama. What will it be this weekend? You know there'll be something.
There always is.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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