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: Following Saturday’s on-track altercation after the race between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, NASCAR chose to penalize both drivers for their transgressions. On Wednesday, they announced the two men would be put on probation for six straight races – although they determined there’d be no fines or loss of points for either of them. Did the sport stop short by not producing a harsher penalty? Or should Busch and Edwards have never been penalized at all?
The Penalties Didn’t Go Far Enough – For Kyle Busch
On Wednesday, NASCAR placed Edwards and Busch, the top-two drivers in the Sprint Cup points standings, on probation for the next six races for their antics on Saturday night. At first glance, the sheer equality of the penalties itself is what seems to be the most unfair. Sure, Edwards pulled the bump-and-run on Busch to start this whole mess; but that was relatively minor compared to Busch’s inappropriate reaction.
While the move wasn’t “clean” racing, any driver in Busch’s shoes should have simply taken it like a man and just went about their business. It’s not like Edwards’s bump on lap 470 resulted in Busch crashing – he still finished a strong second, and had enough time to run Edwards back down if only his car was handling as good. Historically, this type of maneuver is typical at Bristol – even with the new repaving job – and the points leader should have expected something like this. But instead of taking it all in stride, Busch decided to essentially ram Edwards after the checkered flag in a display of petulance not seen in the Sprint Cup Series in quite a while. It was the motorsports equivalent of throwing a hissy fit – and Busch should have paid for it.
But instead, he’s on “probation” – a penalty that doesn’t really, well, have you “paying” for anything. I am generally not in agreement with these probation penalties to either driver, due to the fact that they’re kind of empty on the surface. As we’ve seen so many times before, being put on probation in NASCAR is akin to being told, “Don’t do that again.” It is less than or equal to a slap on the wrist, one with little to no backbone behind it that doesn’t really do much of anything for anyone. Based on what I’ve seen from NASCAR over the past few years, it’s actually debatable whether penalties levied to drivers on probation are any stricter than those given to drivers not on probation. If you’re going to penalize the drivers, penalize them legitimately by some sort of tangible consequence. Hit them in the wallet, hard – with the edict that the fine comes directly from their personal bank accounts instead of letting the teams pay the fines for the drivers.
As for this specific incident, you could make the argument that Edwards started this whole conflict with the slight bump of the No. 18 on lap 470. However, Busch was clearly the aggressor afterwards. Yes, Edwards eventually spun out Busch after he became tired of Busch’s antics – but everyone has a breaking point in these types of situations. Busch probably acted more inappropriate than Edwards did here, and should have been punished more. NASCAR’s opinion, based on their decision, seems to be that both drivers’ actions were equally inappropriate – but probation? That’s not going to stop them from doing it again.
Based on the facts shown here, and my personal beliefs on NASCAR intervention in these conflicts, I don’t think Edwards should have been punished to begin with. However, Busch needed a harsher penalty for his actions, such as a fine. Past precedent shows that intentionally spinning someone out on pit road after the race will get a driver a fine of approximately $10,000 and a probationary period. Since this occurred on the track, where no people (outside of racecars) were, I would think a smaller fine right out of Busch’s pocket would suffice – $5,000, paid, before he is allowed entrance to the infield at Auto Club Speedway. That would send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated by drivers in the future, and connect it to the appropriate punishments inflicted by such behaviors in the past. – Phil Allaway
So, We Can’t Even Bump Into Each Other At Bristol Now?
Earlier this week, I was going to write about how whether or not Busch vs. Edwards was the rivalry that NASCAR needed – and it seems to be working. Their mutual dust up following the completion of the Sharpie 500 last weekend at Bristol served to ignite the fires in a vain attempt at injecting some much needed excitement in what has been a very beige, boring and bland season. During Edwards’s victory lap, Busch ran up into the side of him a couple of times, and Edwards responded by turning down the track and spinning Busch out at what appeared to be a teeth-sucking 45 mph.
As a result, Busch was summoned to the officials’ trailer, but not before he got in his digs on Edwards with a Mr. Ed quote heard around the NASCAR world. Following Edwards’s unapologetic remark that all he would do differently next time is hit him harder, both were slapped with a six-race probation. Considering the broad scope of the incident, some are wondering if the penalties were not harsh enough.
Are you kidding?
The contact between Busch and Edwards was about the only remarkable thing about that 3.5-hour snoozefest over the weekend at Bristol. What once was the most exciting and anticipated race of the year had degenerated into little more than Michigan on concrete. There were all of five lead changes among three drivers, and Busch and Edwards combined to lead 499 laps. Competition, this isn’t. If we can’t have cars that don’t look like one another, is it too much to ask to have races that have some different aspects and attributes to them instead?
Part of NASCAR’s goal for the 2008 season was to “get back to their roots.” If getting back to you roots means a lead change once every two hours at Bristol, then spare me. But if it means letting guys rough each other up a little bit at the track that was once synonymous with, “rubbin’s racin,” then by all means, have at it! The whole point of Bristol used to be about settling old scores, getting back at a guy who did you wrong three weeks ago, beating, banging and close short-track racing. Had it not been for the Bristol of old, the term “rattle his cage” would never have been thrust into our racing lexicon, Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch would have never enjoyed their two-year long feud and Rusty Wallace would have never chucked a water bottle at Dale Earnhardt Sr.
With that in mind, the whole concept of penalties for these two’s post-race antics are pretty silly if you think about it. Is this really what NASCAR has become? What once was an underground sport, whose most compelling and endearing quality was that it was politically incorrect and unabashedly proud of it, has devolved into a tit-for-tat festival of rules and regulations? “Oh no, someone’s radio chatter picked up a curse word! We must fine them! That driver gave that guy the finger, he should be put on probation! There is a scuffle in the pits, everybody is suspended for this race weekend! WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!!!”
Please, just stop. Stop the madness.
I still have a souvenir cup from a trip to Thunder Valley with my buddy Ryan back in 2000. It clearly states, “Bristol: Racin’ The Way It Oughta Be!” Well for God’s sakes, let them race, run into each other, beat, bang, and rough each other up a little bit. Why does everything need to be fined, policed, or patrolled? The golden rule is alive and well in auto racing more so than anyplace else. Thankfully, unlike many things, NASCAR gets this, and is at least letting this pass with little more than an innocuous “probation” period of six races… whatever that means. Hopefully, this act of logic and common sense is not their only use of good judgment for 2008. This season is in dire need of some excitement, and if the best track on the circuit can’t give it to us – we need a rivalry that can. – Vito Pugliese