I really love peanuts. Like, really love peanuts, in the shell, roasted and covered with enough salt to clear the snow off all the roads in Connecticut.
I can eat peanuts by the handful or by the bag. But I cannot eat them by the metric ton. Trust me. I tried one time at one of those steakhouses that has the big barrels sitting by the front door. I ingested so many dry-roasted peanuts in such a short span of time that I had to ask the waitress if the drink menu included an IV bag of fluids.
Perhaps you feel that way about popcorn, Cool Ranch Doritos or M&M’s. And perhaps you too went crazy one night and ate so much of your favorite food that you also ended up feeling like Jabba the Hutt.
The point of my peanut metaphor is this: No matter how awesome something is it only remains awesome when it is consumed in moderation. Too much of anything — even what started out as the best thing — is still too much. Just ask fans of Michael Bay’s Transformer movies. Or Ernest Hemingway’s liver.
On Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR fans got a taste of the awesome when Kyle Busch walked down pit road like Jason Bourne and coldcocked Joey Logano, sparking a baseball fight tug-and-pull dogpile between crew members.
It was tremendous. And I know that most fans are in agreement with that statement because I listened to them say as much on satellite radio shows, I read their “that was great” comments online and I saw their response to my quick Monday night Twitter poll. I asked for a description of the Vegas fight, throwing out four options. More than 1,000 followers chimed in as “It was awesome” won with 48 percent of the votes with “It’s business as usual” in a distant second with 25 percent.
But you see, postrace fisticuffs aren’t business as usual. That’s what makes them so great. Not being business as usual is what keeps those moments special. The relative rarity of the throwdowns is what keeps us jumping out of our seats shouting “Did you see that?!” when it happens instead of rolling our eyes and murmuring about broken records.
“As long as I raced you can believe I was in plenty of fights,” NASCAR legend Donnie Allison recalls.
The Alabama Gang member ran in what’s now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for two decades, during which he also ran every significant short track event and made a handful of IndyCar starts.
“But you can’t just fight all the damn time,” he said. “You have to fight just enough to let those other guys know they’d better not mess with you. And you have to fight just enough to make the fans happy. If you fight all the time, then there’s nothing special about it.
“Then you just become wrestling.”
This from the man who was at the center of the greatest fight in NASCAR history, the postrace brawl between Donnie and brother Bobby against Cale Yarborough at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500. Televised live on CBS Sports, that melee is regarded as the moment stock car racing officially arrived as part of the national sports landscape.
The trio was called onto the carpet by NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., who publicly fined and scolded them, but privately never collected those fines and thanked them for the publicity. Then he added a warning: Don’t do it again … at least not for a while, anyway.
“He wanted to make sure people knew NASCAR was about the racing, too,” Allison recalls. “He said, ‘We got their attention, now let’s give them a show.'”
Likewise, Busch and Logano shouldn’t be fined. On Sunday night and Monday morning there were national news outlets talking about the Las Vegas race, even in the midst of conference hoops tournaments and NCAA bracket reveals. Sure, some of it wasn’t flattering, but chatter is chatter and buzz is buzz. Now the hope in the halls of NASCAR is that there will be a show given — not punches thrown — at Phoenix.
There’s a reason we remember the good NASCAR fights. They stand out because they are also scarce. Kevin Harvick going Superfly Snuka off the hood of Greg Biffle‘s car and onto his head, Rusty Wallace zinging a water bottle off of Dale Earnhardt‘s shoulder, the crews holding a Battle Royal at the entrance to victory lane after the 1989 Winston All-Star race … so many amazing brawls, all separated by so many months or even years at a time.
But do you remember the 2014 Chase? That’s the closest NASCAR has ever come to being me on that steakhouse peanut barrel binge. That was Brad Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon at Texas and Keselowski vs. Matt Kenseth at Charlotte only three weeks apart. This was the same season that included Marcos Ambrose trying to rearrange Casey Mears‘ eye socket with a right cross at Richmond.
It was too much all at once. The repeating rumbles overshadowed what was an incredible postseason title race. The national conversation shifted from “this is crazy entertaining” to “look at these crazy rednecks.”
While NASCAR has always been at its best with a little redneck mixed in, it’s always at its worst when red necks begin to bleed over into red faces of embarrassment.
“When you fight is a lot like how you fight,” Donnie Allison explains. “You can’t just go jumping in there with both arms all the time. You gotta wait and you gotta pick your spot. That’s how you land a punch they’ll remember.”
In other words, one must be judicious when doling out the street justice. Kyle vs. Joey was a great moment. A Kyle vs. Joey rivalry would be a great trend, as long as it is mostly on the track and only occasionally in the pits.
As William Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It,” “Can one desire too much of a good thing?” Yes, Willie, they can.
And you’ll know your cup has become too full when you see a NASCAR fight breaking out and your first instinct is to quote another classic script, “Stroker Ace,” when Harry Gant said with resignation, “Oh, hell, here we go again.”