We haven’t even reached the first race practice of the year for the Daytona 500 and theme for 2010 has already become “have at it boys!” (NASCAR can get away with “boys” because you-know-who is still a few years away from Sprint Cup)
But are the drivers really going to “have at it” any more than they have in years past? NASCAR knew that it could tell the drivers to be themselves because there was another—much larger—entity policing the sport: Corporate America.
Sprint Cup stars may be drivers first and foremost, but they’re corporate pitchmen a very close second, and given how valuable a big name sponsor is in NASCAR right now, drivers aren’t going to come anywhere close to crossing the line that would make a sponsor very unhappy.
And then there’s Brad Keselowski. NASCAR’s newest bad boy doesn’t really have to worry about pleasing a big name sponsor. There isn’t one on his car.
Sure, it’s understood that Verizon is financing the #12 car — just look at the paint scheme — but it can’t put its name anywhere on the car due to Sprint’s presence as the series’ title sponsor, and it can’t use Keselowski in any of its advertising. (That’s why there are Justin Allgaier commercials.) And since Keselowski isn’t a blatant pitchman of any product, he’s not held to any corporate standards.
It’s obvious that Roger Penske doesn’t mind drivers with character, or otherwise he wouldn’t have made the move to hire Kurt Busch to replace Rusty Wallace. So Keselowski doesn’t even have to worry about pleasing a politically correct owner concerned with his image in the sport.
Will this mean that Brad Keselowski will be an even badder version of the driver who constantly squabbled with Denny Hamlin, ticked off Busch at Talladega or got a rough-driving reprimand from NASCAR at Kansas? Who knows. But in this year of “having at it,” it sure helps a lot to have the newest villain be the perfect test for NASCAR’s belief that the garage polices itself.