Under Monster Energy, NASCAR Needs to Bring the Fight

Every NASCAR race begins the same way: Drivers and their families smiling, shaking hands with competitors. The National Anthem ringing out as fighter jets flyover. A preacher breathing some Gospel of safety into the drivers and cars.

But by the end of it, we want something a bit different: Crashes and punches. Cursing and middle fingers. Shoving battles and helmet throwing.

These more emotional aspects of NASCAR make it more than just a couple hundred-thousand left turns every year, and also bring a lot of eyes to the sport. For instance, search “NASCAR” results on YouTube and sort by view count. Outside of a few viral videos and video game compilations, the results read the same: crashes and fights. Millions and millions of views, compared to a few thousand for full races.

And now, under new sponsorship by Monster Energy, it may be the ideal time to harness the power of retaliation for views, and in the process, curb NASCAR’s declining viewership.

Though the start to the 2017 season has been fairly slow in terms of pileups and tantrums, there has been one large test case in the Monster Cup Series.

After contact in turn four between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano led to Busch crashing in the final lap at the Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas, Busch walked up to Logano on pit road and, without any conversation, threw a strong right hook. Logano’s pit crew wrestled Busch to the ground and bloodied him up a bit before NASCAR officials pulled Busch away and sent him to the infield care center.

In an interview after leaving the infield care center, Busch grumbled, “That’s how Joey races. So, he’s gonna get it.”

A clear threat.

A few days later, the harsh NASCAR decision, as we expected. Wait…neither Busch, Logano nor the pit crew were fined?

The ruling seems to mark a change of pace for the sport in levying fines. Under Sprint’s supervision (2004–2016), NASCAR rules around driver conduct were heavily played out in many respects.

You could be fined for making a gesture near the track. Danica Patrick was fined $20,000 last year for walking up the apron of the Auto Club Speedway under caution to express her frustration with Kasey Kahne, who clipped her rear fender as she passed him.

You could be fined for expressing any dissatisfaction with NASCAR, its tracks or its cars. Denny Hamlin was fined $10,000 for saying, “We overachieved today and that’s what you’ve gotta do when your car’s not all that good.” Tony Stewart got a $35,000 fine after, he assumes, some comments on lug nut policy, comments which NASCAR CEO Brian France refused to specify to the media or Tony, but led to a change in the policy later down the line. Bubba Wallace Jr. called race control officials “muppets” after they he was spun and wrecked twice in the 2016 Xfinity race at Daytona, incurring a fine.

And though a handful scuffles went by without punishment from NASCAR, many fights brought on fines and some even warranted suspensions. For instance, after Kyle Busch all-but-intentionally spun Kevin Harvick in the 2011 Southern 500, Harvick stopped by Busch’s car on pit road post-race to talk. Busch sped off and Harvick threw a punch in through the window. NASCAR fined both drivers $25,000 and put them on probation for five races.

But now, according to Monster Energy’s VP of Sports Marketing Mitch Covington, his company wants to see this “raw emotion,” including his promise to “never script” driver interviews. Though they are inclined to promote safety, they also want to give people a reason to talk about NASCAR during the week.

The Busch-Logano experiment is an isolated incident thus far in the Monster Cup Series, but one that had many ingredients for a fine: premeditation, a many-versus-one scuffle, pit road setting, etc. So it’s not a robust sample of cases, but it is a good litmus test for how reactionary Monster Energy could be this year.

What it tells me: bring the fight. Am I uncertain if this tactic will increase viewership in the long run? Absolutely. But what could really hurt NASCAR at this point in the sport’s decline?

Bring. The. Fight.

Despite the teachings of Christianity, so vigilantly promoted in NASCAR, confrontation, not safety, is the new Gospel. No more hesitancy of action in fear of damnation by the Almighty NASCAR, for there is a New Testament to the Racing Bible, authored by Monster Energy.

Spin out others as they have spun you out.

Whosoever strikes you on the rear fender, strike them on the cheek.

Let the words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart rouse controversy and cause sponsors shock.

And in the name of Brian France, keeper of all drivers and teams, heed the Great Commission: to go and spread the news of this updated Gospel, reaping page views and sports media attention.

Amen.