At a time of year when NASCAR races are often an afterthought, the sport is certainly getting some attention.
The latest comes after the crews of Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon brawled on pit road Sunday after the two drivers collided just before the end of the race in Fort Worth, Texas, knocking Gordon out of contention to win and out of first place in the points standings, too.
It was the second time in three weeks that Keselowski (on the far right in this picture with the white cap on) was involved in a skirmish. It happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway, too, on Oct.11th -- and it proved two things to me.
1) Keselowski has gone too far. When you've got basically everyone in the garage mad at you -- and you have had the normally even-tempered Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth both try to fight you in less than a month -- you're not doing something right.
There's a difference between driving aggressively and driving recklessly, and Keselowski has veered too much toward the latter. He needs to rein himself in (see video of Sunday's incident here). He has become the new bad boy of NASCAR, but more in a Kyle Busch kind of way rather than the Dale Earnhardt kind of way. That's not good.
Gordon, the four-time NASCAR champion, was hopping mad in a post-race interview Sunday. He called Keselowski a "dip----" and also said: "The way he races, I don't know how he's ever won a championship. That's why everyone's fighting him and running him down."
Keselowski -- who like Gordon was bleeding slightly after the confrontation -- said afterward he was just racing hard and wouldn't change his style.
The push Kevin Harvick gave Keselowski that started a scuffle that otherwise looked like it was about to peter out was totally out of line and should result in one of the many fines that will be handed out due to this altercation. What was Harvick doing in there anyway? But it was also a sign of what people think of Keselowski in the garage right now.
2) NASCAR's new format is working. The old Chase for the Sprint Cup was basically another points race -- just a shorter, 10-race one that bunched the field of Chase drivers but still awarded consistency above all else and never officially eliminated anyone. By the last race, in Homestead, things often were anti-climactic.
But the "win or else" mentality that has pervaded this Chase is happening because that is the only way to assure advancement into the next round. I think it works better than any previous incarnation of the Chase, and there have been a lot of them since NASCAR instituted its playoff system in 2004. Drivers are eliminated four a time every three races for the first nine races of the Chase. And so there's much more of a tendency to take chances, which is generally good for the race fan (or the casual sports fan whose attention is mostly being taken over by the NFL and, more specifically, his fantasy football team).
I also don't think there's any way Keselowski is going to win another title this year, although he remains in the final eight going into the next-to-last race at Phoenix Sunday (which will then cut the field to a final four). You still need cooperation among your fellow drivers in this sport. And Keselowski is not going to get very much of that.