Friday’s (March 8) Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at ISM Raceway ended with two drivers coming to blows. Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell had an on-track incident boil over into a disagreement on pit road. Punches were thrown and the scuffle ended with McDowell being taken to the ground and Suarez held down on top of McDowell’s car.
According to McDowell, Suarez attempted to wreck him intentionally once the red and black flags were about to fly which signified the end of round one’s qualifying session.
“Just miscommunication on the track,” said McDowell following the scuffle with Suarez. “We all waited until the end and we just had a lot of traffic. [Suarez] was upset that we held him up on his good lap and then he tried to crash us. I didn’t appreciate it.”
Suarez was not so understanding of McDowell’s stance on the entire sequence of events. Both drivers lost crucial track position for Sunday’s 2019 TicketGuardian 500, sending tempers flaring.
“You have always have respect for the other drivers, especially here in Phoenix when we all know that the second lap is a good one,” he explained. “I was opening my second lap and he was in [Turn] 1 and 2. I assumed he was going to get out of the way in [Turn] 3 and 4 and he didn’t.”
Jeff Gluck of JeffGluck.com interviewed Suarez following the fight, where the Mexican-born driver escalated his frustration.
“I’m the kind of driver that I’m going to give a lot of respect to you, if you give me respect back,” he said. “If you don’t give me respect, I’m going to kick your a**.”
The incident resulted in two of the more mild-mannered drivers on the Cup circuit needing to be restrained by their crews. It’s the second time in a month McDowell has been in the middle of an incident. Fellow Ford drivers were livid with his on-track behavior at the end of the season-opening Daytona 500. McDowell and Joey Logano had a mini-altercation post-race after McDowell failed to help Logano pass eventual winner Denny Hamlin. Logano felt the decision cost him a shot at the win.
Now, he’s got yet another Blue Oval driver feeling blue about the way McDowell conducts himself on the racetrack. But the Front Row Motorsports driver maintained he did nothing wrong.
“I understand why Daniel is upset, I’d be upset too. I definitely messed up his lap,” said McDowell. “But then he tried to crash us. When he came over, I wasn’t that excited about him trying to crash us on the racetrack. I made a mistake, an honest mistake, but trying to crash somebody is a different story. That’s all. It’s just racing.”
Now, both drivers sit in traffic entering a weekend of unknowns. The sport’s 750-horsepower package is making its debut with a large rear spoiler. Suarez understands how track position is key this weekend, adding to his frustration over the scuffle.
But he also has a lot of confidence in his car and team.
“I’m obviously mad because track position is the situation in racing today,” he said. “I don’t really care about starting in the front or the back, but what is very important is the pit stall selection, which we’re going to be bad. But I have a very strong race car. We showed that in practice, and we’re going to be able to overcome that tomorrow.”
Both Suarez and McDowell suffered accordingly for Sunday’s race as both failed to advance out of round one. McDowell will start 27th and Suarez in 28th, right next to each other in row 14.