NASCAR drivers eye fight to the finish


Let's get ready to rummmblllle!

Forget the combatants' height, weight and reach in the biggest battle of the year in Las Vegas.

These fighters will wear more than underwear and will be shrouded in 3,400 pounds of metal. They'll wear gloves with fingers, instead of overstuffed mittens.

The squared circle will be a 1.5-mile oval when drivers answer the bell to start Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

When the green flag drops at noon for the 400-mile Shelby American, it will be a 43-man fight for about $6.3 million in total prize money, along with precious Sprint Cup championship points.

Win a race in Nashville, and you get a guitar; win at Martinsville, and you get a grandfather clock.

Win at Las Vegas, and you get a belt befitting a heavyweight champion. The buckle -- if that's what you call the big shiny orb on it -- would make a world champion cowboy jealous.

I preferred giving away a slot machine when the speedway opted for the champion's belt in 2002, saluting Las Vegas' reputation as the world's boxing capital.

This year, however, there might be more similarities to boxing than in any of the previous 12 Cup races at the track.

This is the year NASCAR promises to take off the gloves and let drivers bang and slam on each other.

"There's an age old saying that (in) NASCAR, 'If you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing,' '' NASCAR president Mike Helton said last month. "I think that's what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect."

Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton added, "We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say 'Boys, have at it and have a good time.' ''

That tough talk isn't on par with the ramblings of boxing's Don King or the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Dana White, but it's pretty rowdy for the NASCAR world.

The biggest feud in Cup is between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, but that was last year. So far, both have behaved well on the track this year.

Feisty Danica Patrick will run in only her third Nationwide Series race, on Saturday afternoon, so she's not likely to accost another driver -- though she hasn't backed off the boys in her full-time job in the IndyCar Series.

It's not likely fisticuffs will break out on pit road -- though I doubt NASCAR would mind that too much -- but after races in Daytona and Fontana, Calif., there's a good chance at Las Vegas that one driver might try for some payback over a rub or bump he didn't appreciate in a previous race.

The best rule change NASCAR has made is extending the number of possible two-lap overtimes from one to three to help ensure races don't end under numbingly slow yellow-flag caution conditions. It took two extra runs at a green-white-checkered flag finish at Daytona, and it was worthwhile.

NASCAR is stirring the pot to improve sagging attendance and television viewership, but hopefully no one gets burned by the "Days of Thunder" rhetoric.

Let's just hope none of this year's drivers in the Las Vegas Cup race needs a cut man.

Jeff Wolf covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

 

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