- Associated Press - Saturday, September 1, 2012

HAMPTON, GA. (AP) - Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth have smoothed things over after their helmet-throwing dustup.

Not to worry.

In NASCAR, the next tantrum is usually just around the turn.

Emotions certainly will be running high Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the next-to-last race before the Chase for the championship begins. Several top drivers _ including Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon _ are battling just to get into the playoff, so they’ll be on edge during the AdvoCare 500, knowing any major incident could ruin their hopes.

“If you’ve been in racing long enough, you’re going to have some type of disagreement with pretty much everybody you’re competitive with on the track,” Kenseth said. “Some of that stuff is natural.”

While NASCAR doesn’t give the competitors carte blanche to do whatever they want, Stewart wasn’t fined for tossing his helmet at Kenseth after a crash at Bristol last weekend. That was telling. The governing body has come back around to the idea of letting drivers show their emotions and try to work out any problems among themselves, which, of course, goes all the way back to the infamous 1979 incident in the Daytona 500 that essentially propelled the good ol’ boys into the national spotlight.

Battling for the lead on the final lap, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough smacked each other three times before their cars spun into the muddy infield, allowing Richard Petty to come around for the victory. While the King celebrated, Allison and Yarborough hopped out of their cars and got into a brawl, joined by Allison’s brother, Bobby, who pulled over to join the melee on Donnie’s behalf.

“I remember watching that and thinking, `How will they ever top this?’” comedian and NASCAR fan Jeff Foxworthy recalled. “Two brothers getting out and getting into a fight on the last lap! That’s one of the greatest sporting moments in history to this day.”

While NASCAR certainly frowns on fisticuffs, it’s impossible to keep tempers from flaring in a sport where the competitors put their lives on the line every time they get behind the wheel.

And, seriously, why would they want to rein in those emotions?

To plenty of fans, including Foxworthy, that’s what they love about the sport.

“Why does everybody like reality TV?” five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson asked rhetorically. “It’s kind of in the same vein. People like watching train wrecks. People like watching controversy. Whatever that is, we’re all intrigued. We love to be a voyeur and check it out. Most of us don’t like being in that situation, but it sure is fun to watch.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another theory.

“I’m sure everybody watching the race has somebody whose neck they would like to wring,” he said. “Maybe they live vicariously through our emotions in some way. There’s probably a co-worker or two who you wouldn’t mind running a fist into their face.”

Earnhardt is no different when he’s watching a football game.

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