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NASCAR drivers five races into the season are “feuding, fighting and wrecking,” which is “exactly what NASCAR has been looking for,” according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. This is what NASCAR officials “have been asking the drivers to do in recent years.” The “verbal barbs, on-track bumping and a few punches" seen at Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 are "all things NASCAR hopes can help inject some excitement into the sport.” The fans at the track on Sunday “roared when the screens showed” Tony Stewart’s altercation with Joey Logano. Overnight ratings for the race on Sunday were up 32% “one week after Logano feuded" with Denny Hamlin following the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Driver Brad Keselowski said of the fans, “They want to see us be human, and humans are emotional” (USA TODAY, 3/26). In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly wrote, “All the stars are in alignment for NASCAR.” There have been “five different race winners, each manufacturer has picked up at least one victory and there’s been plenty of controversy, everything from safety issues to drivers showing true dislike for each other” (NEWS-JOURNALONLINE.com, 3/25). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle said, “NASCAR has put together some really fun weekends the last few weeks. ... This is the kind of stuff they need.” But NBC Sports Net's Dave Briggs said, “I don’t know if this is good for the sport. Does anyone know who won this weekend? No one’s talking about that.” Beadle: “That’s the thing, we’re talking about NASCAR though” (“The Crossover,” NBCSN, 3/25). ESPN’s J.A. Adande said, “The bad blood is all people are talking about. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the biggest name in the sport, is atop the Sprint Cup (standings) and nobody’s talking about that. That should be the big story” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 3/25).
CLUB PRIVILEGES: In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote this was a "spectacular weekend" for Auto Club Speedway, a track that "has been much-maligned in the past.” One of the biggest crowds in recent years was “on hand for a very entertaining race during one of the most beautiful race weekends weather-wise this track has seen in a long time” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/25). In Utah, Tom Zulewski wrote it was the “kind of race that definitely gave Auto Club Speedway, which has had a history of very little racing action and many empty seats, a big-time jolt of excitement.” The empty seats were “still there,” but those who “showed up left with an experience they won’t soon forget” (THESPECTRUM.com, 3/24).
Health and player safety were the topics of conversation during an NFL Network special called “Health of the Game: NFL Evolution Special Report.” The show featured a roundtable discussion on making the game safer. NFL Net's Andrea Kremer said there is “always talk about a built-in conflict of interest that exists between coaches, players and the medical staff.” She asked, “How do you reconcile the need to make the game safe, go through the appropriate protocols and yet get the players out on the field?” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he has “zero influence” on the medical staff "in any way.” Lewis: “That’s a misconception that any coach can be involved that way, saying to the doctor, ‘Oh no, he’s fine.'" Giants President & CEO John Mara added, “It really bothers me too, because no coach wants to send a player out on the field if there’s a suspicion that he has a concussion.” Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay said the issue of player health and safety has not changed the direction of the Competition Committee because, being the “old man” on the committee, the issue “has been at the forefront of the committee since I got on" in '94. Mara said of assertions the new rules are softening the game, “This game is just as physical as it’s ever been and I defy anybody to watch one of our games up close … and tell me that the game is any less physical.” Lewis said, “We’re asking guys to do things differently but the game is just as physical” ("Health Of The Game: NFL Evolution Special Report," NFLN, 3/25).
GAME IS GOING TO CHANGE SOME: Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber said of the rule changes implemented to increase player safety, “It’s going to change. The future of the game is going to slow down.” Steelers S Ryan Clark said “on paper” the game is going to “be safer, but on the field it’s going to softer.” Former NFLer Donovan McNabb said the league “is covering themselves” and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “is coming up with more rules and litigating everything now to make it look like we’re trying to protect everyone. But they still want to see explosive players so we can see it on highlights.” Former NFLer Shaun O’Hara: “They’re trying to make the game safer for us as players, but they want to see their investments out on the field” (“NFL Total Access,” NFLN, 3/25).