NASCAR Bristol 2014: Emphasis on winning ramps up intensity

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

How will NASCAR’s emphasis on winning affect the first short track race of the season? Opinions are mixed, but most drivers expect the intensity to rise considerably.

Through three weeks of the NASCAR season the talk has been constant, continually stressing how important winning is, as doing so virtually ensures a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

It was just a week ago that Brad Keselowski said he would have had no qualms spinning out good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That situation never materialized, as Earnhardt ran out of fuel on the final lap handing the victory to Keselowski.

"You don't want to go throw trash in your neighbor's yard just for the hell of it. But if you give me a good reason, I might do it." -Dale Earnhardt Jr. on whether he'd intentionally spin a competitor out

Nevertheless, it underlined the prevailing mentality held in the garage.

"When it comes down to it, if you've got a guy running second within reach of the leader and he needs a win he's going to do a little bit more than he probably would have done last year -- probably be a little more aggressive and rightfully so," Earnhardt said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In the first short track race of the season, and on a track which induces contact and frayed emotions, that aggressiveness should be on full display Sunday. No longer will drivers be as reluctant to use their bumpers to pass, especially in the closing laps if a possible win is within grasp.

What transpired last August at Bristol between Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth will likely be a rarity, according to Earnhardt. That was when Kahne, running second to Kenseth with a handful of laps to go, resisted using force to nudge his way into the lead.

"It's the perfect scenario, where Matt was leading and Kasey was running second," Earnhardt said. "I think Kasey would have been much more aggressive in that situation to try to get the win had we been using the current format for the points system."

But there are consequences drivers must be mindful of if they elect to be forceful taking a spot. Drivers have long memories and the possibility for revenge down the road is very real. Earnhardt, somewhat jokingly, recalled in detail still owning Jason Keller payback for an incident in a Nationwide Series race that occurred years ago.

And not everyone is certain there will be a dramatic shift in the ferocity exhibited. Kenseth feels the mindset is no different than it has been in years past where it's dependent on the circumstances and desperation level involved.

Earnhardt used a metaphor to describe his approach Sunday.

"You don't want to go throw trash in your neighbor's yard just for the hell of it. But if you give me a good reason, I might do it," he said.

Kyle Busch is one driver who has never been shy about metaphorically throwing trash in his neighbor's yard. He shares the opinion of many that Bristol will be more intense because of the significance of what a win means.

"I think you're going to see some things happening so it's going to be interesting how all that plays out," Busch said. "It's a part of what this sport is, it's what the rules grant it now and everybody is playing by the same ones, but some might play a little harder than others."


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