From its heyday in the 90s when NASCAR's popularity was at the apex of American sports, something got lost.
Like other sports, NASCAR is no different, the promise of increased revenue may be its undoing. The American way seems to be more is better, bigger is better, excess is good.
From 1990 to 2001 the NASCAR season was expanded from 29 races to 36. In this gain something was forfeited. New venues outside of the traditional hot bed of racing were introduced—New Hampshire, California, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Illinois, and Kansas.
The losers were North Carolina (North Wilksboro and Rockingham), no longer a part of the Cup Series, and South Carolina (Darlington) losing its fall race to California (Fonatana).
These new tracks do not have the tradition or the glory where racing was founded. The "cookie cutter" tracks of Texas, Michigan, and Kansas lack the character that tracks like Bristol, Charlotte, Martinsville, and Talladega exude.
When NASCAR's popularity was at its peak, the names were Rudd, Wallace, Waltrip, Petty, and Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt, known as "The Intimidator," was the face of NASCAR.
When an upstart from California, Jeff Gordon, burst onto the scene, he made an immediate impact. He became the anti-Earnhardt: A first-generation driver not from the Southeast challenging the best.
This was good for the sport—there was drama and passion. As a fan, you either loved Gordon or despised him. In 2007, six years after the unfortunate death of Dale Earnhardt, when Gordon earned his 77th victory, eclipsing Earnhardt's, the fans littered the track with debris—a show of their passion for The Intimidator.
The last of Gordon's championships was in 2001. A new history-breaking force has emerged in Jimmie Johnson. But it's not the same. There's no controversy with Johnson. No rivalry; he does not have the same swagger that Gordon did when he was winning championships. He did not become the anti-Gordon. He is more the heir apparent driving the car owned by Gordon. He is business-like and professional, a sponsor's darling.
NASCAR needs more throwbacks. Drivers like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. Drivers who don't care what you think and who will do what is needed to win.
Now as an owner-driver, Stewart may be mellowing some. He still has the aggressiveness on the track, but the networks are not cringing like they used to at the post race interview.
That leaves Kyle "Rowdy" Busch as one of the last mavericks of NASCAR. He drives like every race matters. It's win or wreck trying.
Busch's style would have worked better a couple decades ago. How else would you explain having as many or more wins as ten Chase drivers and not being eligible for the title?
It's been stated that he can drive three wide all by himself. He doesn't think "points-racing," he thinks win. There is no second place; there are winners and losers.
This is what NASCAR needs. He may be seen as reckless and dangerous, with disregard for the driver who stands between him and victory lane, no matter who that driver is, be it brother, friend, or maybe even teammate, but doesn't this sound like the Intimidator?
Since running a full season in 2005, Busch is third in victories, tied with Carl Edwards at 16, trailing only Stewart (18) and Johnson (23).
Passionate race fans have made Dale Earnhardt Jr. the face of NASCAR. Unfortunately, the most popular driver in NASCAR has not been able to emulate his late father like Rowdy Busch has.
NASCAR's president, Mike Helton, needs to understand that Kyle "Rowdy" Busch is good for NASCAR and its popularity and success. Every organization needs its bad boys, those who are unpredictable and provide the spark that leads to rivalry, where fans either love them or hate them—passionately. Don't try to break these mavericks, let them speak their minds without fear of punishment.
Take the muzzles off and let the drivers compete before this sport becomes too much like the NFL: No Fun League.