Now that the dust has settled a bit and we await the next stanza of the Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano battle, I think it makes sense to take a look at NASCAR feuds in general and what they mean to the sport.
With the obvious exception of injuries like that sustained by Denny Hamlin, an unfortunate and regrettable outcome of the newly minted rivalry between him and Joey Logano, feuds in NASCAR are productive for the following reasons:
They bring added off-track excitement. They keep folks engaged in the week between races and add a storyline that can develop sometimes throughout an entire season. The melees that ensue in the pits and between trailers among the respective teams keep the show going and give fans another reason to anxiously await the next race or look ahead on the schedule to races they think will provide the perfect environment for another confrontation. They also give non-fans a reason to tune in or follow because drama outside of a sport piques general interest.
They bring added on-track excitement. Two guys running the heck out of their cars side by side in the final lap is great viewing. With the added drama of a fresh rivalry, there’s nothing better. Fans are deeply passionate about their driver and by being able to direct that passion against a specific opponent – rather than simply battling the field – galvanizes that enthusiasm and builds rivalry among fans which is always good for the sport.
NASCAR feuds are the best of any sport. The on-track feuds are as real as it gets. They take the form of wrecking a guy to end his day and ruin his chances or sending him into the wall at 200 mph. Not exactly things taken lightly, nor should they be. The rivalries are also readily consumable by the public when carried out through highly visible social media like Twitter with real-time attacks and responses.
In other words, these are unlike your spats in the NBA where a couple of players talk trash about one another’s family members, flail blindly for a few seconds, hit the showers and go weeks or months before seeing that opponent again.
But the most important reason of all:
Feuds and rivalries in NASCAR are informative. They teach non-fans about the sport. Because of the attention this quarrel has received, everyone now knows what a ‘block’ looks like in racing. They’re able to see the minutiae and technique that’s involved in racing that otherwise may not be apparent to the average viewer. It creates an appreciation for the skill and strategy involved in these races. When Logano discusses how the same move completely changes based on which lap it is, it tells us something. When Tony Stewart is frustrated about Logano blocking him on the restart and losing a ton of spots, the importance of restarts is clearly illustrated.
These feuds are unlike the proverbial ‘chin-music’ in baseball that is almost always in response to a perceived violation of some unwritten rule and merely results in a warning to both benches.
Hockey fights are incredibly entertaining and can be used strategically to sway momentum, but the reality is that they start and end quickly and everything promptly moves on around them.
The bottom line is that feuds and rivalries are great for the sport but again, the limit can quickly be reached when injury becomes part of the picture as it has with Denny Hamlin.
Although, I will be honest. While I hope Denny’s back heals soon; I hope the rivalry doesn’t.