It was a really awkward NASCAR moment. Probably the most awkward fight you’ll see all year.
These two definitely don’t belong in a boxing ring. But what Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez did on pit road was different. It shows a revised version of NASCAR, one where even qualifying will cause drivers to square up without the boxing gloves.
Just look at the moves here. An awkward grab of the leg. Tugging? Maybe? If you want to call it that. The best part of the fight was probably Suarez’s initial takedown of McDowell, flat-out throwing him into the ground.
But besides the awkwardness that this fight presented, it’s one that will be on highlight reels for the next year… and counting. It was an epic confrontation in the sense that it actually happened.
We all know there are few of these raw, emotional moments in NASCAR these days. So to see it happen in qualifying, when the stakes aren’t that high, is truly remarkable.
It’s strange in the sense that drivers have complained more often about being raced hard over the last two years than anything else (just ask anyone who’s raced around Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). But that’s where we stand.
The greatest part about this fight? The sport is actually OK with it. There won’t be penalties or fines.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps was actually enthused by the incident, something you wouldn’t normally hear out of a stock car executive. But it’s 2019 and NASCAR knows it needs drama to attract a new fan base.
“Seeing the passion and the emotion, that’s what our fans want to see,” Phelps said in an interview with the Arizona Republic’s Bob McManaman. “They want that intensity. They don’t want vanilla. The raw emotion is great.”
In this new NASCAR, boys can indeed have at it. They are encouraged to produce drama.
NASCAR won’t step in unless they really need to. Officials met with Suarez and McDowell for a whopping 30 seconds on Saturday, only telling the two to not wreck each other on the racetrack.
Is there a line? If so, what is it?
Yes, there is. Don’t wreck someone else purposefully on the track.
If McDowell and Suarez got into it on Sunday (March 10) at ISM Raceway, you’d probably be hearing more about their drama from NASCAR. But they controlled themselves, even riding around the track together prior to the race.
This fight happened in a natural way, too. It was the culmination of a midpack battle for several weeks that spilled over when McDowell supposedly ruined Suarez’s qualifying effort.
“It’s just a lack of respect,” Suarez said at the time. “Everyone here knows the second lap is a good one. You have to try to get out of the way if somebody is coming in your lap. He didn’t.”
Do racecar drivers need to show one another that type of respect? Is McDowell wrong for caring about his car’s shot at advancing to the second round of qualifying? Would it have even mattered on race day?
If a driver is blocking, I say that’s a good thing. It shows they are giving 100 percent effort in each lap they put out there. If you think you’re faster, find a way to get around the slower car.
Let your racing do the talking, not your mouth. And keep in mind Suarez is in much better equipment than McDowell is. If he can’t get around the No. 34 car in qualifying, try a different line. Do something to make a move.
You can’t expect your opponents to step aside for you. That’s not how sports work. It just doesn’t happen.
Still, NASCAR needs more of this type of controversy. They need to show fans these are real racers again and prove that the drivers who hit the track mean business. Incidents like these show everyone cares; it provokes passion in the garage and the fan base.
In the meantime, good luck to anyone who tries to hit Suarez again. Next time, they might not have a chance to even grab his leg.