NASCAR not long ago was considered the model mass-consumption sport. It blew into the national sporting consciousness on a combination of great driving, compelling personalities and savvy marketing.
Stock-car racing found that its image for hard-charging, fair and unvarnished competition in the hands of drivers who seemed like regular folk was the right tonic for fans tiring of the high-gloss athletic cynicism. It was a break from drug trials, sex scandals, preening narcissists and free-agent intransigence.
But that golden image age is done for, and the sport's onetime biggest star is emblematic of NASCAR's headlong lurch into modern pro sports banality.
Exhibit A is Jeff Gordon, once NASCAR's dominant driver, who intentionally crashed driver Clint Boyer at the end of Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, in his mind settling a score.
Problems continued behind the pit area with a full-throated brawl among members of both teams. The result was a fine and loss of points for Gordon.
It was a small price for the latest NASCAR setback. With drivers increasingly carrying themselves like celebrities and less like the of-the-people stalwarts portrayed by racing's marketers, it's just another sideshow. Think pro wrestling.
Did Gordon wreck Boyer for attention? Probably not. Tony Stewart probably hasn't thrown fit after childish fit to get camera time either. But NASCAR has let egos, tantrums, feuds and bad judgments grow to dominate a sport that had become a fan favorite because it seemed real, not because it poured beer on its head and hollered to the world, "Look at me."
What to watch
NBA, Miami at L.A. Clippers, 7:30 p.m., ESPN: The Big Three take on L.A.'s best team (for now), winners of three in a row.
What do you think of Jeff Gordon's punishment?
Just about right
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