There is no question that NASCAR racing, that racing in general, is much more interesting when there is rivalry and confrontation involved. Seeing drivers turn things up even another notch when they get near a driver they openly dislike gets the fans even further on the edge of their seats than they already are during a race. While drivers getting into fist fights in the garage and on pit road isn’t nearly as common now as it was in the early rough and tumble days of NASCAR, there are still personalities that mix like oil and water.
And they seem to somehow always end up near each other on the track during a race. The competition aspect of auto racing naturally brings out raw emotion and drivers can sometimes lose control of those emotions. However, while there is some leeway that is afforded those drivers because of the nature of the sport, that leeway isn’t extended to team owners.
This past weekend, after the Truck Series race, team owner Richard Childress let his emotions get the better of him, and it resulted in him getting kicked off pit lane for Sunday’s Cup race. It is probably going to cost him some money when fines are announced on Tuesday.
As the race came to the checkered flag, RCR driver Joey Coulter passed Kyle Busch and sealed the deal by pulling up in front of Busch abruptly, forcing him to lift out of the gas or cause a wreck. On the cool down lap Busch gave Coulter’s truck a bump on the side as the trucks were heading to the pits. Minutes later, according to eye witness accounts, Childress removed his jewelry from his hands and then approached Busch as he walked from his hauler toward his motor coach. Childress reportedly hit Busch with his fist, the two were separated and traded insults. Childress then grabbed Busch in a headlock and did his best Nolan Ryan v. Robin Ventura with three more shots to Busch’s noggin. Busch did not retaliate, other than with verbal barbs, and was not the instigator, so he did not violate his NASCAR probation after an earlier altercation with RCR driver Kevin Harvick at Darlington.
NASCAR officials met with the parties involved, along with Joe Gibbs (Kyle Busch’s team owner) on Sunday morning. The sanctioning body determined that Busch did not do anything to violate his probation, and would not be penalized as a result of the confrontation. Childress was allowed to stay at the race track but was limited in the areas where he was allowed to visit. NASCAR did not eject Childress from the track because with no other management personnel in attendance from RCR, the company needed to have someone in a leadership capacity on site. Childress is going to receive further penalties according to a statement released by NASCAR.
At the end of the day, there’s no question that NASCAR brings out passion and emotion among its members as well as its fans. But there is a responsibility for the people who are in leadership positions on the race teams involved to maintain an air of restraint in times of high emotion. Childress has certainly seen his teams in the mix of things with Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last year. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were deeply involved in the championship hunt last year and had a run in at Dover. Busch and Harvick had their issue at Darlington last month, which resulted in both drivers being placed on probation. Harvick and Joey Logano have experienced a few different dustups over their careers, including the infamous “She wears the driver’s suit” comment at Pocono.
So when the action heated up on Saturday, there’s no doubting why Childress decided to take matters over personally. But an owner of a race team simply can’t allow himself to be sucked into a situation like that. There are too many people in a racing organization that look directly to the owner of the team for leadership. When they see him “knuckling up” on a competing team’s driver, it is sending two messages.
One message is that the owner is tired of seeing what he’s seeing and he’s going to do something about it. That message will undoubtedly inspire his troops and dedicate them further to the organization’s efforts. The second message is the more dangerous one, which is that it is OK to go after members of other organizations, to try and settle things violently. While it brings fans to the track and adds spice and excitement when people in the garage get physical with each other, the people who make the top decisions in race teams cannot let themselves be drawn into the melees, because the entire situation could devolve into chaos.
Now had Childress chased down coach Gibbs in the garage and decided to throw down, while still inappropriate, the situation would be different because they are both leaders of race organizations. The folks running NASCAR might not have seen it exactly the same, but for two owners to throw down over what goes on during races would be a fair tussle. If Childress were allowed to go after a driver and not be given a significant penalty, there would be no way for them to act any differently if the tables were turned. Say Carl Edwards put Chip Ganassi in a headlock and did some Moe Howard action on his dome. NASCAR has no choice but to nip this in the bud, and it is the right thing to do. Owners need to police their own drivers and ensure that things do not deteriorate into an all out war in the garage area.
Richard Childress is an icon in NASCAR and has hundreds of thousands of fans who look up to him for the years and championships that he has given them with Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick. However, he is a man, and sometimes emotions can get the better of a man.
Which is what happened on Saturday. Richard lost his cool and is going to pay a heavy price for it. It will no doubt give him a lot of street cred among the folks who like to see garage fights, but he’ll probably have to work to repair his image in other circles, especially the ones where the big sponsorship checks come from. At the end of the day, Richard should have known better.
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