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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Will a Hamlin/Keselowski Rivalry Help Save Our Sport?

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Remember the chant from the playground? Whether you were a party to the upcoming event or not, you probably followed the rest of the kids outside hoping to see what would happen. It’s called conflict. It’s interesting, even when nothing really happens.

For days after, there would be whispers in the hall about who was gonna retaliate and the teachers kept a sharp eye on all the “troublemakers.” It added a certain tension to the air.

It seems NASCAR isn’t that different from the schoolyard.

Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are currently in the middle of a good ol’ fashioned showdown. I may not hold much hope for the excitement value of next week’s Cup finale, but I will be tuning into the Nationwide race. Hamlin has promised some fireworks after the pair joined fenders during the Able Body Labor 200 at Phoenix. Despite restraining himself from “bashing [Keselowski] for the next 20 seconds,” Hamlin found it hard to dismiss the lap 157 wreck that ruined his day. “I’m just happy I signed up for next week’s Nationwide race. In turn there’s a lot of guys that owe [Keselowski],” he said. “There’s a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they’re going to cash in and I’m just going to be the first at the pay window.”

My only hope? That NASCAR lets them take this to the track and show us an example of what rivalries are all about.

What’s even better? Both drivers have rides in the Cup Series for 2010. For once, it looks like we’ve got a pair of drivers who just can’t stay away from each other. And if there’s one thing that will draw fans to the television, it’s a pair of competitors ready to go after each other at the drop of the flag.

But… will a rivalry, the likes of which we have not seen since Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon, be enough to truly salvage NASCAR’s TV ratings from the juggernaut of monster multi-car teams? Since I don’t expect Keselowski to be visiting victory lane next season, even if he will be driving a Penske machine, will anybody really care if Hothead Hamlin and Knuckles Keselowski go at it in the turns?

Unfortunately, I suspect the answer will be no.

Let’s face it, as long as the television cameras are glued to the leading Hendrick Chevy, there won’t be much reason to be looking for that bump n’run between the two kids. Should Keselowski decide to suddenly take a dislike to, say, Jimmie Johnson, then the announcers will have something to talk about.

You see, it has been determined that it’s all about the win… the checkered flag. However, I think it can be safely said that this season has proven that race fans aren’t actually in favor of having a team drive away with it all. We want stories.

We want good guys. We want bad guys. We want young guns and veterans. We like to see everybody get along and yes, every once in a while, we love to see a couple of guys throw the gloves to the ice and have at it.

Brad was invited to the Oval Office for counseling. Maybe all the right words were said. Maybe….

Maybe, they’ll ignore all the warnings and take the spotlight off a predictable ending to the season, setting us up for more excitement in 2010.

Now, wouldn’t that be a story worth talking about?