There’s one word that’s sure to send people flocking to a scene, and last Saturday, they flocked to pit road at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, specifically to the immediate vicinity of David Starr’s truck. There were several reasons for the sudden congregation.
Todd Bodine’s team hurried to the scene to… well, start the fight. They had a beef with Starr, who had dumped their driver in the very late going of the Camping World RV Rental 200. Bodine was the third driver Starr had tangled with in the same manner during the race, including their teammate David Reutimann, and Bodine’s crew took exception. Some of Reutimann’s crew joined the fracas as well.
Several NASCAR officials also arrived on the scene, hoping to break up the fray before it became a brawl. They were outnumbered, and the fray became kind of a brawlette anyway. Some media and onlookers probably flocked to the scene as well, but that’s another story.
Actually, the real story isn’t in the fighting itself, but in the way NASCAR handled the situation. Bodine’s crew chief, Mike Hillman Jr., crewman Mark Hillman and Reutimann’s crew member William Divel were each suspended from NASCAR until September 24, meaning they will sit out this week’s Las Vegas race. All three were fined and put on probation until December 31. Four other crew members, including Starr’s crew chief, Rick Gay, were placed on probation until year-end as well. In fact, all three teams’ owners were informed that their entire teams are on probation until December 31.
I don’t have a problem with the probations. I don’t really have a problem with the suspensions – there is a rule in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series that strictly and specifically prohibits fighting. The rule is clear and succinct.
Where the problem comes in is that NASCAR apparently either has a very short memory, or thinks we do. Remember back at Daytona when Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch exchanged paint, and, by any account except NASCAR’s, at least a couple of blows at the Oval Office – the NASCAR hauler and racing’s equivalent of the principal’s office? A punch thrown is, in effect, fighting. Yet Busch and Stewart – both Sprint Cup drivers and therefore at the top of their sport – got what amounted to a lecture about playing nice. “Now shake hands and make up!”
Why the double standard? One punch or 10, fighting is fighting. The NASCAR hauler is parked in the garage area every week and therefore subject to the garage rules, including, presumably, “no fighting.” Either Stewart and Busch should have been suspended for a week, or the three crewmen should have been told to play nice.
The answer is, of course, that there is less sponsor and fan backlash for suspending crewmen than high-profile drivers whom both sponsors and fans have paid good money to see race. Frankly, that’s a pretty lousy answer. Is NASCAR, the sanctioning body of the entire sport, so cowed by a couple of Cup team sponsors that they will let the drivers get away with murder? They need to grow a backbone if that’s the case.
NASCAR bigwigs thought it was “pretty cool” when Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya had a girly fight at Watkins Glen last year. They laughed it off as boys being boys and said they wanted the drivers to show more spunk. Granted, you can’t be allowing things to escalate to fist fights on pit road, but why is a shoving match “pretty cool” if it’s between two Cup drivers and decidedly uncool if it’s between crew members on pit road?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the blatant favoritism here. NASCAR should either be suspending every licensed competitor who throws a punch or telling them all it’s pretty cool and ordering them to kiss and make up. Otherwise, they just look like a bigger bully than they already did. And nobody likes a bully.