This is the online version of our morning newsletter, The Morning Win. Subscribe to get irreverent and incisive sports stories, delivered to your mailbox every morning.
Check out these two NASCAR dudes throwing hands.
Those men, I’m told, are named Daniel Suárez and Michael McDowell, and they fought on pit road at ISM Raceway in Arizona after neither advanced past the first round of qualifying. After the incident, Suárez called the brawl “part of racing.”
I don’t know a heck of a lot about motorsports, admittedly, but as far as I understand, physically confronting your competitors is absolutely not a part of racing. It happens, apparently — the 1979 Daytona 500 ended with Richard Petty crossing the finish line as two drivers beat the tar out of each other on the infield — but the goal of auto racing is to drive faster than everyone else over some predetermined distance. Your ability and willingness to kick the crap out of your opponents after the engines turn off has absolutely no impact on your winnings or your podium position.
But — hear me out here — what if it wasn’t that way?
I like violent television, but I am not what anyone would consider a violent person. I’ve been in physical altercations in my life, for sure, but not really in adulthood, and in general I am far, far more likely to diffuse tense situations than perpetrate them. In the last 15 years, I don’t think I’ve done anything more vicious than slamming my hand on a desk in frustration when my computer acts up.
But you know what can get me so, so mad? Other drivers. If someone tailgates me or cuts me off or blocks an intersection I’m trying to cross, you can count on me unleashing a stream of expletives grim and profane enough to make the writers of Deadwood blush. One time — a long time ago, granted — I drove like 10 miles past my exit on the Southern State Parkway just so I catch up with another car to flip the guy off.
Which is to say: I get why NASCAR drivers act like petulant children sometimes. FTW’s resident motorsports expert Michelle Martinelli maintains a feature called “NASCAR Feud of the Week” and never seems to have any shortage of material.
Some of these people just absolutely hate each other. Joey Logano went on the radio to call fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse “Ricky Stankhouse,” and added that “he sucks.” Logano has also feuded with McDowell, one of the guys in the fight referenced above, and called him “a freaking idiot.”
A few weeks ago on a Weird Sport Wednesday, this newsletter celebrated the Wu Tang Clan-endorsed sport of chessboxing, in which competitors alternately box and play chess. What if auto racing went that direction?
I’m still workshopping this very bad idea. And obviously I don’t think you could alternate between fighting and racing like they do in chessboxing because racing at speeds up to 200 mph is just way, way more dangerous than playing chess, and definitely not the type of thing you want people doing after taking a few blows to the head. Be realistic here, folks.
But maybe, like, after the finish you get to call out one driver who wronged you, and if they’re willing, you both put your earnings from that race on the line and engage in physical combat for the whole pot. I’d watch that sport.
Wednesday’s big winner: Ronald Acuña Jr.
Spring training stats are something close to meaningless, so Acuña isn’t in this space for going 8-for-8 with two homers, two doubles, a triple and a walk over his last nine Grapefruit League plate appearances — impressive though that may be. The 21-year-old Braves outfielder gets the nod here for his delightful pre-game exchange with fellow young NL East star Juan Soto. Given their respective playing styles, it seems perfect for Soto to be trying to tuck Acuña’s gold chain back into his shirt. Also — SPOILER ALERT — Acuña’s going to be my pick for NL MVP when I publish my preseason MLB predictions in a couple weeks. I feel like the most valuable thing I learned this offseason was how to type an “ñ” without having to Google it then copy and paste.
Quick hits: Barkley, Westbrook, OBJ
– All of today’s quick hits are heartwarming stories, but none is more heartwarming than the achingly beautiful tale of Charles Barkley’s unlikely friendship with a “cat-litter scientist” from Iowa named Lin Wang. I missed the original story when Wang’s daughter wrote about it in December, but Barkley spoke with our Charles Curtis this week about its impact.
– Fresh off an ugly incident with a racist fan in Utah, Russell Westbrook made a kid’s day in Oklahoma City.
– NFL Network reporter Kim Jones shared a personal story about Odell Beckham Jr. reaching out to her following a near-death medical emergency that had her hospitalized for weeks. Pro athletes: Sometimes they’re pretty nice people!
Since it’s a rare Motorsports-themed newsletter this morning, today’s Thirsty Thursday celebrates one of the weirdest and best traditions in sports: Indianapolis 500 winners chugging milk. Delicious milk. Now think of how refreshing that milk would be if you had just beaten up the dude who aggressively cut you off from your right on Lap 175.