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Tempers run hotter than ever in NASCAR
"Man, that's as much of a sport as wrasslin'!"
Even after decades of hearing it over and over, that simple sentence still stings NASCAR officials and competitors alike. Yes, the athletes wear colorful uniforms. Yes, a lot of their fans like to wear the ugliest t-shirts in sports and have been known to drink a beer or two. But no, the outcome isn't fixed. No, the France family has no say in what happens between the yellow lines. And no, no one ever does a backflip off of a turnbuckle.
However, this season the sport of Junior, Smoke, and the Rainbow Warrior has developed one undeniably common trait with the realm of Hulk, The Rock, and the Ultimate Warrior.
Tempers are running hotter than a brake rotor at Martinsville.
"It seems like each season there is more tension earlier in the spring than the year before," says mild-mannered giant Elliott Sadler, now in his ninth season. "Why? Pressure. Pressure from a lot of different places all at once. You get all that built up inside and then something happens to trigger it ... and boom! You got guys in each others' faces."
"You try to do this right," the four-time champ said after his televised power shove. "And you get run over. I have been trying to do this right, but I am going to have to be more aggressive from now on."
April brought a Kurt Busch-Greg Biffle wreck at Texas, which resulted in the highest profile shouting match of the season thus far a pit box showdown between Biffle's girlfriend and Busch's fiancee. The incident lasted about 10 seconds, but was caught live on FOX and during the off weekend of Easter, aired on every sportscast from Bakersfield to Bangladesh.
Oh wait ... did we mention Mark Martin arguing with rookie Denny Hamlin, Busch Series regulars bitching about part-time "Buschwackers" winning all the races, or everyone at Darlington wanting to knock Ken Schrader's block off?
Poor anger management is certainly nothing new to NASCAR. In the 1940s and '50s, finishing the day with a bunkhouse stampede in the garage was as customary as waving the checkered flag. Richard Petty's mother once beat the hell out of a 6-3 giant named Tiny Lund during with her purse. "The purse didn't hurt," Lund said, "But the pistol inside the purse did."
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Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.