CUP: The 2010 NASCAR Legacy - Boys, Have At It

The story of the year was planned by NASCAR, but it didn’t have a title for it.

After NASCAR Chairman Brian France had pledged that “this is a contact sport” in addressing the media in January, NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton talked about how NASCAR wouldn’t police Talladega with an iron fist as far as bump-drafting. Pemberton ad-libbed a line in his comments: “We will put it back in the hands of the drivers, and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time,’ that’s all I can say.”

A new day in NASCAR had dawned.

“Boys, have at it” became more than just a catchphrase. It became a philosophy. And not just for Daytona and Talladega but also for NASCAR’s stance in general on rough driving, retaliation and even a little open-handed shoving outside the car.

Someone spins you to pass you? Spin them back without fear of a penalty. Two laps left, double-file restart and you want to shove someone for position? Have at it, dude. Both cars wrecked and you want to wrestle your opponent? Give him a little shove or a slap – just don’t close your fist – without fear of the NASCAR hammer.

”We are going to open it up because we want to see what you want to see: More contact, this is a contact sport,” France said in January. “We want to see drivers mixing it up. We want to see the emotion of the world’s best drivers just as much as everybody else does, and that is the goal for 2010 and beyond.”

Boys have at it delivered in a lot of ways. Granted, things did get out of hand a little bit between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski – Keselowski walked away from two harrowing crashes at the hands of Edwards – but the fact that neither was suspended shows that NASCAR doesn’t mind a little retaliation as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

Beyond Carl-Brad, Joey Logano had at it with Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman with Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch had at it with Keselowski, Todd Bodine and even teammate Denny Hamlin.

Speaking of teammates, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were angry with each other, as were Harvick and Jeff Burton.

Overall, NASCAR was pleased with the way drivers showed their emotions and personalities on the track.

“Carl went too far,” France said after the second Keselowski-Edwards incident in July at Gateway. “We think some contact, especially late in the race, is part of NASCAR. There are limits to that. The limits are pretty obvious. You can’t just spin somebody around, especially intentionally. That’s number one. But is there going to be contact?

“The issue that Carl had probably above it all is he already had a history with Brad, so he wasn’t going to get any kind of benefit of the doubt about was that just racing or whatever else. The point is, there have got to be limits. On the other hand, we’ve opened it up where the drivers, this is the big leagues, you’re going to have contact here. These are full-body cars.”

Drivers embraced the new attitude, and they got especially aggressive thanks to the double-file restarts instituted in the middle of the 2009 season and then the new rule for 2010 that allowed for three green-white-checkered finishes instead of just one.

“It makes you do things that you otherwise really wouldn’t want to do but you don’t have a choice,” four-time Cup champion Gordon said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for the sport. We’re not out there to all be buddy buddy

“We’re out there to race hard, win races. If that puts on a great show for the fans, I think it’s a win-win for everybody. But it’s also going to make some enemies for you out there that you’re going to have to deal with going forward.”

Going forward, 2010 won’t be the only year that boys had at it. But the 2010 legacy in NASCAR history will be one where boys had at it became acceptable, endorsed and relished by the NASCAR brass once again. • Jimmie Johnson’s fifth consecutive title another one for the history books