NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Side-By-Side: Whose Fault Was It – Tony Stewart or Kurt Busch?

Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch’s Side-By-Side? Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled Friday in Bud Shootout practice, destroying Busch’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. It’s a wreck Busch responded to by using his damaged racecar to beat and bang Stewart’s vehicle all the way down pit road, the second such time he’s done so in the past year (see Dover, June 2007).

With that in mind, the question is… did Busch overreact and wreck a perfectly good racecar in the No. 20? Or, did Stewart go too far by reportedly throwing a punch at Busch in the NASCAR hauler?

NASCAR Should Have Thrown The Book At Busch

The blue car made a move to block the orange car closing in, but it came just a split second too late. The orange bumper made contact with the rear of the blue one, sending it spinning… and the driver’s temper flaring right along with it. As the smoke cleared from an ugly wreck, both cars came down pit road; but the blue one chose not to play nice. Instead, he pulled up alongside the orange one – and slammed right into it.

No, I’m not talking about Friday night. I’m talking about last June.

It was at Dover nearly a year ago that Busch concluded a wreck that was a poor racing decision on his part – perhaps coupled with an overaggressive move on the part of Stewart – was instead a personal slight by Stewart himself. So, Busch decided to bodyslam Stewart’s machine as Stewart arrived in his pit for service… coming within a hairbreadth of hitting Stewart’s jackman in the process. That crewman – wearing bright orange, remember! – was clearly visible, but Busch apparently just didn’t care. NASCAR tried to; they levied a hefty points penalty on Busch as well as a monetary fine. In one sense, he got off lucky; the penalty could have been much worse.

Too bad Busch didn’t learn from that mistake.

Too bad NASCAR didn’t care enough to do more.

Fast forward to Friday night’s final Budweiser Shootout practice. Stewart tried to pass Busch to the inside down the back straightaway, except he ran into a problem; Busch threw a hard block on him. So, Stewart — now with a full head of steam — went for the high side instead. No dice there, either; Busch threw down another block. At that point, Stewart just couldn’t slow up; he hit Busch’s right-rear quarterpanel, sending him right into the wall in the process.

Could Stewart have backed down? Sure – although if he had, it’s likely that Greg Biffle would have hit him from behind. So, he was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. Had it been under race conditions with Busch protecting the lead, the block would have been legitimate; but it was a practice session for an exhibition race, and Stewart was in a clearly faster car. There was no reason to get that aggressive when no positions were at stake; unfortunately, Busch sealed his own fate with the second block – and paid the price for it.

But he wasn’t done.

Busch slammed Stewart hard coming onto pit road several times, and looked as if he was going to ram him again before Martin Truex Jr. and several others appeared on pit road en route to the garage to make adjustments. So, Stewart blocked the garage entrance, and Busch was forced to fall in line. In the end, Busch did squeeze by to get to his stall – perhaps closer than was strictly necessary – and barely managed to avoid Stewart’s crew while doing so, who were coming to aid their driver.

After they parked, NASCAR promptly dropped the ball again.

When the dust settled, the two drivers were called into the NASCAR trailer to discuss the incident, where the usual rhetoric went on: the two were told to share the sandbox. Reportedly, Stewart had other plans; he took the opportunity to take a swing at Busch. So, officials told them to come back in the morning when they could behave; amazingly, no punishments would be doled out that night, or for the next few days.

Simply put, they told the two to play nice, be safe, and head home, even despite Busch’s ill-fated pit road wreck attempt, part II. Amazing; while Stewart should probably have refrained from attempting to rearrange Busch’s ear surgery, it’s hard to blame him once it became clear that the punch was the only punishment Busch would end up receiving.

Why on Earth would anyone think telling Busch to behave was enough? Obviously, the money and championship points have not deterred him from driving a 3,400-pound missile toward unprotected crewmen on pit road – and we’re supposed to believe that telling him to “play nice” will? NASCAR should have suspended Busch from the Budweiser Shootout, at the very least. We’re talking about a repeat offender here; this is not some driver who lost his temper once in 100 races. A message should have been sent to clear up the problems – and doing so wouldn’t even mess with the whole “boys will be boys” mentality heading into 2008.

That’s because everyone knows you can do what you want outside the garage, but keep it off pit road. It’s been a long-standing rule which was clearly violated; too bad NASCAR doesn’t have the brass to enforce it. – Amy Henderson

Kurt Busch Justified

About five minutes after I took this side, I found myself thinking “Bryan, is defending Kurt Busch really the best way to win readers over in your first column for Frontstretch?” Probably not… but here goes nothing. Because Busch had absolutely every right to go after Stewart and his racecar on Friday night during Bud Shootout practice.

The “racing incident” that saw Stewart’s No. 20 take out Busch heading into turn 3 was both completely avoidable and unnecessary. This wasn’t a race… it was practice. Sure, Stewart got a great run down the backstretch, and under race conditions his move into the tiny hole between Busch’s car and the wall would have brought the crowd to its feet – and for good reason. But this wasn’t the case, making it all the more shocking Stewart’s move on Busch was one more appropriate for five laps to go… not five minutes left in a practice session. Rather than backing off the gas and keeping both cars out of trouble, Stewart forced his way in… and Busch paid for it.

After the wreck, Busch had just cause to be angry regardless of the driver involved; his primary car was junk after being taken out for no good reason. Certainly, some sort of venting was justifiable; but had it been another driver, Busch’s temper might have been kept under control.

However, in this instance – considering the driver responsible was Stewart – how can anyone blame Busch for going after him? This is the same Stewart that wrecked Busch in exactly the same way at Dover last year… putting him in a deep points hole as he strived to make the Chase. This is the same Stewart that has a history of run-ins at Daytona (just ask Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin), the same one who wrecked out with Busch in last February’s 500. Every single thing might not always be Tony’s fault; but frankly, I don’t buy the theory that a plethora of NASCAR stars have just developed a habit of braking in front of the No. 20.

Busch has taken a lot of heat for going after Stewart’s car on the track instead of Stewart in the garage. First of all, the argument about safety on pit road being threatened by Busch’s aggression has been completely overblown. There were no personnel anywhere near either racecar when Busch made his hard contact with Stewart. It was on the access to pit road… not in the pits. The only situation where pit crew members may have been endangered was when the two drivers were feigning at the entrance to the garage, and Stewart was in that case just as responsible as Busch for causing a problem.

The other argument I hear being made against Busch is that NASCAR is a team sport, and it was wrong for him to go after Stewart’s car when his beef was solely with the driver. My response? You’re right; NASCAR is a team sport. Stewart is the man behind the wheel… but he is a member of the No. 20 team. If you use that argument, the No. 20 team junked Busch’s and the No. 2 team’s car just as much as Stewart did.

Moreover, the No. 20 team puts racecars on the track for a driver who is known to be a hothead with a history of on-track run-ins. They are aware of their driver and his tendencies. If the No. 20 team wants to avoid having to fix racecars damaged by angry opponents, they are more than capable of telling their own driver to simmer down and shape up on the track. Let’s not also forget that because of Stewart, Busch’s team had to prep a backup car hundreds of miles away in the middle of the night for their driver to race on Saturday, and the fabricators back in Mooresville now have a car to rebuild due to Tony’s aggression.

Eye for an eye, car for a car, I say. – Bryan Davis Keith

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