DAYTONA BEACH — Dear Danica and Ricky:
Please stop it. There is no making out in NASCAR.
No hugs, no exchanging of Valentine's Day cards, none of this schmoozie-poozie stuff with the nauseating soundtrack of a Michael Bolton/Barry Manilow mix-tape.
The romance between race rivals Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse is threatening the demise of a sport that thrives on the edge of hate. How easily we forget that mainstream America fell in love with this sport after an epic battle at Daytona International Speedway in 1979.
Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough got tangled with each other on the final lap, with both cars stopping on the infield grass short of the finish line. As Allison and Yarborough were arguing, Bobby Allison — Donnie's brother — stopped his car to give his bro some backup. They all began fighting, and lucky-dog beneficiary Richard Petty slid through unimpeded for the victory.
The story made the front page of the New York Times sports section the next day.
NASCAR became a major player in the sports universe thanks to wreckin', racin' and the occasional 'rassling.
These days, the storied Times and just about every news group in America is smitten over Danica's romance with Stenhouse. It spawned the most number of offbeat questions during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.
What did Danica get Ricky for Valentine's Day? What did Ricky get Danica? What happens if they crash? What happens if they break up?
For now, though, it's all lovey-dovey. Danica got her sweetheart a bunch of stuff: "There's like a whole bag dedicated to Valentine's Day."
Enough pillow talk. Those old-school guys know what I'm talking about. It's all about the contentious relationships, not amorous ones.
"We've had a nice little dose of that [over the years]," said NASCAR veteran Mark Martin.
"Does it seem a little bit like old times?" he was asked.
"Gosh, it just seems like good times to me, " Martin said.
Bravo, sir. Bravo.
Here was the NASCAR of yesterday, explained by Dale Earnhardt Sr.
"If you're not a race driver, stay the hell home," The Intimidator said. "Don't come here and grumble about going too fast. Get the hell out of the race car if you've got feathers on your legs or butt. Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won't climb up and eat that candy [butt]."
Here is the NASCAR of today, explained by Danica Patrick:
"I think you end up finding some kind of a chemistry with someone," she said, "and you can't always put it into words what exactly it is. We've just always kind of enjoyed being around each other. I think he's really funny. His jokes are really funny. Yeah, I just like being around him."
I imagine that the Intimidator is cussin' up a storm from the great beyond.
I suppose there is hope for the new season. The smart money is always on Kurt Busch for another implosion, although Las Vegas seems to be skewing toward Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. Those two tangled big-time in Phoenix last season after Gordon wrecked Bowyer in retaliation over a few incidents during the course of the season.
Bowyer made a bee-line for Gordon in the garage area, punctuating one of the craziest scenes in recent NASCAR history.
They haven't really made nice since then despite a coincidental meeting on P Diddy's yacht on New Year's Eve.
"I don't get caught up in that," Bowyer said. "You guys made it a lot bigger deal that I ever did and ever thought that it was."
Please don't let us down, Clint. We need this to be a big deal. The wussification of NASCAR is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes.
And it's not just Danica and Ricky.
Dave Blaney showed up for Media Day wearing a pink fire suit.