The Frontstretch: Penalty Day: A Slap on the Wrist That Means Nothing by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Wednesday May 11, 2011

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Penalty Day: A Slap on the Wrist That Means Nothing

Beth Lunkenheimer · Wednesday May 11, 2011


Another Saturday night race with a Cinderella story winner in Regan Smith was overshadowed by two drivers throwing temper tantrums. And as Wednesday dawns in NASCAR-land, the bigger story continues to be not surrounding the man that won but the punishment doled out to two men who lost.

By now, everyone has heard about or seen the late-race altercation between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. With just a handful of laps remaining, the duo made contact on the track, an initial sideswipe by Harvick a combination of driving into the corner too hard and some contact with his teammate Clint Bowyer. What happened between that contact and the bump Harvick handed to Busch in the next turn is anyone’s guess, but two of the series biggest hotheads were already riled up from their previous fender-banging.

Seconds later, as a three-wide sandwich led to Bowyer spinning out, utter chaos ensued: Kyle Busch turned across the track and caught the back bumper of Harvick’s No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, sending him spinning and steaming towards retaliation after the checkered flag. After the race ended, the two headed toward pit road and played a juvenile game of chicken before ultimately stopping nose to tail near the pit road entrance. It didn’t take long for Harvick to get out of his car and head toward Busch, but the driver of the No. 18 didn’t want anything to do with a confrontation. Instead, he gunned the motor and shoved the No. 29 out of the way just as Harvick reached Busch and attempted to throw a punch through the open window.

Of course, both parties along with owners Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs were immediately invited to the NASCAR hauler for a “talk” about what happened. When asked about the conversation, Harvick simply grinned and said “not much” was discussed, while Busch openly criticized his rival for an aggressive style of racing.

Fast forward to Tuesday, the traditional NASCAR penalty day, and both drivers walked out of the incident with a minimal $25,000 fine and probation through the Pocono 500 in mid-June under the standard Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing involved in an altercation on pit road after the conclusion of the race).

NASCAR’s Senior Director of Communications and Competition Kerry Tharp had little to say about the consequences after they were announced, making it difficult to deconstruct officials’ thought process on their reasoning.

“These penalties are a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over,” Tharp said. “They are about maintaining a safe environment on pit road.”

Are the consequences justified? Let’s start at the beginning. While I don’t condone using a race car as a weapon of retaliation, NASCAR has opened that can of worms with the “Boys, Have at It” mantra adopted last season. If that’s the way the sanctioning body wants the drivers to handle their differences, that’s fine, but frankly I’d rather see them handle it in the garage or on pit road — or better yet, privately — where lives aren’t endangered. Heck, even the pits may not be the best place to settle such arguments, especially considering Busch’s actions once Harvick got out of his car and headed toward the No. 18 sitting right behind him. Slamming into a parked car was both dangerous and potentially disastrous for innocent bystanders not paying attention to their argument.

Frankly, I expected both drivers to be penalized simply because Harvick threw a punch and Busch endangered those around him on pit road by punting the empty No. 29 into the pit wall. I mean, it’s not the first time a driver has been penalized for fighting, and it clearly won’t be the last. But what I don’t understand is why those penalties are equal. Last time I checked, throwing a punch at a guy who’s still sitting in his race car with his helmet on isn’t exactly going to cause any damage unless it comes in the form of a nasty bruise — or worse — to the hand of the driver doing the swinging.

On the other hand, shoving an unmanned 3,400 pound race car out of the way can create a whole plethora of dangers for those working on pit road to close out a race weekend. What exactly did Busch expect to get out of that move? After the race, he claimed he “made a judgment call there” and that he was “just trying to get away from it and get back to [his] hauler and go on with my own business.”

Huh? What kind of judgment call is that? I’ll give Busch the benefit of the doubt and agree that he was, in fact, more interested in getting back to his hauler, but it doesn’t take a genius to know the route Busch chose was clearly dangerous to those around the two cars on pit road. I can’t even begin to understand the thought process that brought Busch to the decision to punt Harvick’s car, and I don’t intend to try to explain it either.

That said, did both parties overreact? Definitely. And while I don’t necessarily agree with equal penalties for both parties involved, I do understand why NASCAR felt the need to police Harvick and Busch following their pit road altercation.

But the funny thing is that I’m almost 100% sure we haven’t seen the last of these two this season. NASCAR may be keeping a closer eye on both drivers, but as soon as the All-Star Race – remember, this probation is for points-paying events only – fireworks between the duo could easily explode once again.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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Bill B
05/11/2011 08:42 AM

Notice how there hasn’t been one penalty this season that resulted in points. All the cars have been legal. All the cars have passed inspection. No team or driver has stepped over the proverbial, ever-changing line. We are almost a third of the way through the season and not penalties.
I can’t remember the last time we were this far into the season without a points penalty.
Is NASCAR afraid to assess points penalties because they have no idea what a penalty should be under the new points system?

05/11/2011 10:28 AM

i only saw one driver throw a temper tantrum… with the other driver getting the better of him.

05/11/2011 11:43 AM

Personally, I was more upset with the deliberate wrecking of Harvick by Busch on the track. That could have been potentially more dangerous for Harvick and for other innocent drivers behind them. Based on what they let Busch get by with, why would any other driver be afraid to do the same if given the chance. The fine means nothing to these multi-millionaire drivers and teams. And this double secret don’t do it again probation is a joke too. When someone like Busch gets someone seriously hurt or killed then maybe Nascar will react like what they did when Earnhardt got killed but it’s very clear they are not going to do anything until that happens. Look, I know the cars are safer now than in the past and we have softer walls but a driver can stll get injured especially if he gets hit in the drivers door. If this type of stuff keeps happening and Nascar keeps turning a blind eye to Busch then the blood will be on their hand. However, I think the smell of money means more to them than the safety of some driver or innocent drivers getting caught up in Busch’s temper tandrums. Another sad day for NASCAR.

don mei
05/11/2011 12:24 PM

So what we have here is two millionaire self centered jerks acting like 5 year olds during and at the end of a race. All we seem to be disagreeing about is which one is the bigger jerk. My vote goes to Harvick by a nose but its really really close!!.

05/11/2011 12:25 PM

Calm down Susan…we know you are hot for the Lil man….but rest assured…the ONLY thing big on Kyle is his mouth!! He got that from his illegit daddy DW!!

Annie Mack
05/11/2011 12:56 PM

I have no idea why people read Frontstretch if they believe it is a crap publication. You may want to switch to where they will give you a daily dose of BS that should make you smile.

Do you also watch TV shows that you don’t like just so you can e-mail the networks about the crap they televise?

It makes no difference to me because I like to chuckle as I see your blood pressure rise when you’re confronted with differing opinions.

Have at it readers!

don mei
05/11/2011 01:06 PM

I’m with you, Annie. I keep looking for intelligent conversation.

Bill B
05/11/2011 01:51 PM

OK since everyone wants to debate the Busch-Harvick thing….
Do we all agree that the main reason Busch didn’t get out of his car is because he knew he’d get his ass kicked?

Bill B
05/11/2011 01:53 PM

BTW I like Busch and Harvick about the same… I think they are both punks.

05/11/2011 02:32 PM

Susan, Kyle could club baby seals to death and you would defend him.

05/11/2011 02:36 PM

Bill B. Yes you are correct. That little wussy Kyle did not get out of the car because he knew was gonna get his ass kicked. Same reason his coward brother did not get out after the deal with Jimmy Spencer.

Must suck for the Busch brothers knowing a 5th grade girl can kick their butts. ha ha ha.

Carl D.
05/11/2011 02:37 PM

Okay, can we all agree that at least Ryan Newman isn’t afraid to throw a punch, helmet off, at another driver? And guess what? No fines and no probation for Newman. There’s a lesson here… Happy and Rowdy, are you taking notes?

05/11/2011 02:44 PM

Susan I beleive you are so enamored with shrubby that you are blind to any negative facts about him….Therefore your opinion is of no value…Sorry Both partys have lots of fault here …But to me the big issue is the danger created on pit road by pushing an unmanned vehicle with pedestrians around after the conclusion of an event…Nascar I guess dos’nt know what a negative effect a serious injury or worse will create & it seems will wait till there is a victim

05/11/2011 02:45 PM

Harvick is a big punk than Bush!!! But, Bush is a better driver than Harvick!!

05/11/2011 03:15 PM

Susan, there are not enough drivers on the track to catch up with Busch and all the cars and trucks he has deliberately bumped, wreck, or pushed out of the way. He has wrecked many drivers in the Trucks and Nationwide who was running for the championship and Busch wasn’t yet he wrecked them. This guy has no respect for anyone on the track except hisself. Just a very self centered, spoiled, rich kid brat and why anyone could be a fan of him is beyond me. I can assure you one thing, if I was a driver when I got through putting him over or through the wall his attitude would change. If I was some of these high dollar teams I would pay some of these back of the field runners to take that little punk out. Maybe after about ten times of that he might get the message but I doubt it. Again, I want to congratulate Rick Hendrick for dumping that little twerp. It may have cost Rick some wins and some money but at least he had sense enough to know a bad thing when he saw it. The same can’t be said for Gibbs. Busch is just the complete opposite of Gibbs and yet why they put up with him I’ll never know.

Bill B
05/11/2011 03:58 PM

I’m not sure if he has ever landed a punch. I can’t say I have ever seen a driver land a good punch that was shown on tv. Probably because there are usually others there (conveniently) holding them back.
Did Jimmy Spencer punch Kyle Busch? Did Ryan Newman punch Montoya?
I don’t know because that is all heresay.

What I do know is that, once again IMO, both Busch’s seem to be willing to run their mouth and wield their cars like weapons (fyi they don’t have a monopoly on that, I’ve seen most drivers do it at one time or another), however when it comes to the face to face confrontation after the race they avoid it.
Reading between the lines I interpret that as being afraid they’ll get their ass kicked.

It reminds me of that kid in the neighborhood that will run their mouth and then hide behind their mother when the other kid comes after them. And then, while the mother is admonishing the other kid, the whole time her kid is behind her making faces and gestures at the other kid.

His nickname should be The Instigator or maybe the Master… nevermind.

don mei
05/11/2011 04:28 PM

Harvick is all talk when he has 8 guys standing behind him; otherwise he’s just a big blowhard. Spencer is right.

05/11/2011 06:28 PM

Most of the time I disagree with what Susan writes, but, oh heck, I have to go with about 95 percent of what she wrote today. Am I going to hell because of that? :)

MI Mike
05/11/2011 07:40 PM

OK so the boys got a $25,000.00 fine. Are you kidding me! This is comparable to fining the average worker $25.00
Until NASCAR takes away points this is nothing but a JOKE! And the drivers just laugh (-:

05/11/2011 08:03 PM

“….played a juvenile game of chicken”.
Best description I’ve heard yet of the incident between these two morons.

05/11/2011 09:09 PM

I saw the race and watched the video of the event twice.

What stands out, is that Kyle did a last second move back onto the track, instead of going to pit road. Presumably this was to avoid a confrontation with Harvick.

So Harvick goes back out as well, pulls along side of Busch and invites him to get out of his car. Cool-headed Kyle slams his car into reverse so hard he dumps his transmission and Harvick beats him back onto pit road and blocks him. The rest is history.

Had Kyle had the intestinal fortitude to get out of his vehicle on the track and tell Harvick “that’s for Homestead” this would all be over. No fines, no penalties. Instead he chose to run….

05/11/2011 09:36 PM

Why does anybody think Nascar is going to do anything other than encourage this sort of thing?
They desperately need anything that will draw attention and put butts in the seat.

Follow the money folks, follow the money.

05/12/2011 12:33 AM

This whole line of conversation is why NASCAR encourages fighting.

05/12/2011 11:41 AM

Did you ever come across an individual that just HAS TO disagree? The sky is blue…..Susan’s response “NO IT’S NOT AND I SAY THAT BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE SAYS IT’S BLUE”. Blah Blah Blah. Hey FS….how about limiting responses to 140 characters? It would go a long way on cutting down on the self ordained windbags.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer