HAMPTON, Ga. -- The timing of Todd Bodine's indiscretion two weeks ago at Concord, N.C., couldn't have come at a better time for NASCAR.
Just when all the focus on Tony Stewart had waned, Bodine decided to drive through the infield grass instead of tapping the brakes to avoid two slower cars.
His car hit the quagmire created by a day of rain and it shot back into traffic. Nine other cars then took turns hitting either Bodine or one another.
Just that fast, NASCAR had its newest bad boy.
Although the sanctioning body is seriously committed to making sure Bodine behaves himself the rest of the racing season, it knows bad-boy images are good for the sport.
The day after Dale Earn hardt crashed Terry Labonte on the final lap to win the race at Bristol, Tenn., in 1999, Darlington Raceway added people to take ticket orders for the South ern 500.
Ticket sales at Lowe's Motor Speed way soared in 1987 the week after Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Geoffrey Bodine tried to wreck one another in The Winston all-star race.
Fans cheered wildly this year at Indianapolis when Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer renewed their rivalry at high speed. The picture of Busch standing on the track and clutching his rear end when Spencer drove by a lap later ran in many newspapers.
So when it comes to trouble, Bodine is in pretty good company.
Spencer has been sent to the NASCAR hauler racing's version of the principal's office several times in his career. He knows the sanctioning body has to publicly take stands against aggressive driving, but deep down, he knows the battle lines between the good and the bad are compelling storylines.
''You'd have to ask NASCAR (if they need a bad boy),'' Spencer said. ''I guess Tony Stewart was criticized earlier in the year. I don't know what brought that on. I guess it was temper or whatever.
''I like Tony a lot. He's good for this sport. I think some things that were said in the past, you can't have guys with no emotions getting out of these cars. Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Cale (Yarborough), they all had personalities. Today, some of the Winston Cup champions have been pretty boring in my eyes.''
Bodine admitted he was at fault at Lowe's Motor Speedway. NASCAR put him on probation a penalty that requires good behavior the rest of the season but it didn't dock him any points in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship or fine him any money.
Nonetheless, Bodine isn't happy to be lumped into the group of drivers who have reckless reputations.
''I feel like I made a mistake in judgment,'' Bodine said. ''I was going to run into Ward (Burton) or I was going to go below him. I chose to go below him, and that wasn't the mistake. The mistake was I gave him too much room and got in the grass.
''I was trying to do the right thing, but I ended up too far over and in the grass. It wasn't an intentional thing.''
But it's good for business.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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