Famed NASCAR bad blood seems like just a memory

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Oh, for the days of knockdown, drag-out fights between NASCAR drivers in the garages, at their haulers and outside their cars on the track.

Remember Cale Yarborough taking on Donnie and Bobby Allison after the 1979 Daytona 500? Jimmy Spencer going after Kurt Busch on track in 2003 at Michigan? Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick going at it in 2002 at Bristol? Carl Edwards grabbing Kevin Harvick by the neck last year at Charlotte?

Although there has been some pushing and shoving and name-calling in the Nationwide and Camping World Trucks Series, it has been a pretty benign and mellow year on the Sprint Cup side.

"Well, the year's not over," Edwards said, smiling. "As it comes down to the wire, tensions will be high, and the competitive fire will be as bright as it's ever been."

There could be several reasons that Sprint Cup drivers are on their best behavior this season.

For one, points were precious for drivers trying to get into the Chase. A driver who threw a punch or even a tantrum risked being docked points that might have been the difference between being in or out of the Chase.

Dollars are even more valuable. Bad behavior off the track would not please sponsors who are spending millions of dollars in tough economic times.

Former Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace, who sits on the board of directors of the NASCAR Foundation that gives the drivers' fine money to charity, can vouch for the deportment of the racers.

"We had a pretty good year last year. ... We got a lot of fine money," said Wallace, now a commentator for ABC/ESPN. "But this year, the fine money has been lower. We love it when they fight. We like to take that money and give it to charity, but for some reason we can't get them to do it."

Busch said tempers still flare inside the cars.

"Whether you choose to carry it into the garage area afterward or onto the next race weekend, definitely everyone has to think about things a bit more thoroughly because of the ramifications that come up if you are stepping out of the box," Busch said. "That would be bad press, and you continue to be talked about in a fashion you don't want.

"Everybody is out there throwing their all at it, trying to get those wins and be there at the end of the day to get your sponsor the most positive exposure you can."

If a driver gets out of line, he runs the risk of being a YouTube moment forever.

"The drivers all realize there are cameras and microphones everywhere they go, and showing everything they do," said former Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett, also an ABC/ESPN analyst. "Everything is covered. You can't do anything without it being totally documented and in front of everyone.

"As much as we want them to show emotion, we seem to jump on it hard and tear them down whenever they do show this emotion. So guys are a little concerned and apprehensive, because they're not sure what the consequences are going to be."

Maybe that's why the sport lacks the famous rivalries involving Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Yarborough and the Allison brothers.

"You go back 40 years you've got guys swinging jacks, literally swinging 50-pound jacks around the race car taking out guys' shins and knees and everything else," Ryan Newman said.

"I think the sport likes to see rivals and likes to see punches thrown every once in a while, but that's not the best thing for the kids that are out there."