Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Penalize Drivers or Crewmen for Fighting at the Track?

This past weekend at Martinsville Speedway had its highs and lows. Perhaps the most memorable thing from the weekend came during Friday night’s (April 8) NASCAR Xfinity Series event when a fight occurred between Sam Mayer and Ty Gibbs. The fight was all over social media the next day and many thought it painted the sport in a bad light.

FOX Sports even went as far to interview Mayer, who had a bruised face, after the incident. It made many wonder if penalties should be handed out due to the altercation. That seems like a perfect topic for debate. Should NASCAR penalize drivers or crewman for fighting at the track? Bryan Davis Keith and Clayton Caldwell debate.

NASCAR Has No Choice But to Use the Rod

The libertarian in me hates the idea of advocating for NASCAR officiating to insert itself into anything. Giving a power-hungry sanctioning body a mandate, especially one whose only consistent behavior is inconsistency, is a dangerous proposition.

But for the second time in as many decades, it’s necessary.

It was a little over 10 years ago that NASCAR opted to go with a “boys, have at it” approach that was supposed to harken back to their old-school days. It was barely a month into the season when that translated into a mercurial Carl Edwards flipping Brad Keselowski on dogleg in Atlanta. Later that summer, the same rivalry boiled over again, this time with Edwards turning Keselowski driver’s side first into oncoming traffic at Gateway.

Brad’s father Bob remarked that night that he’d get back into a car himself to ensure Edwards “didn’t kill his boy.”

Sad thing is, the way 2010 was going, it may have gotten to that.

The takeaway? It got out of hand in a hurry.

Fast forward to 2022, and NASCAR’s seemingly back to boys (and girls) have at it. Friday night saw Ty Gibbs ram a competitor on the cooldown lap, ram him again on pit road, push a NASCAR official aside, start a fight that injured a NASCAR official… and for all of that incurred a $15,000 fine. 

See also
Ty Gibbs Fined, RCR Crew Members Suspended After Martinsville Weekend

For perspective, that’s 7.5% of what Carl Long got fined in 2009 for running an engine that was 0.17 cubic inches too big. That’ll show a rich kid.

Problem is, what Friday night showed is that today’s NASCAR has again gotten out of hand. For entirely different reasons, but out of hand to a degree that the heavy hand of penalization is needed.

For one, as previously stated, Gibbs triggered a fight that got an official injured, after he pushed one out of the way to start his spat with Mayer. 

Regardless of how hands off we all may want officials in all sports, be it racing or stick-and-ball to be, one common line always has been that officials are off limits. Letting that go, whether it was intentional or not, is a terrible precedent to set.

Further, it doesn’t matter whether Gibbs’s repeated contact with Mayer’s car, be it on the track after the checkers or on pit road caused a real safety hazard or not, it’s ridiculous conduct that needs to be nipped in the bud. While a Joe Gibbs Racing driver smashing up a JR Motorsports car may not cause calamity for either superteam, had Sam Mayer been driving for an underfunded operation, it very well might have.

NASCAR loves eschewing terms such as old-school, grassroots, etc. whenever they get close to a short track or what passes for one these days. There’s nothing old-school about teenagers tearing up perfectly good equipment knowing full well they’ll have a bright shiny new toy to drive less than a week later, as if nothing ever happened.

Lastly though, there’s an ugly strain of utter immaturity plaguing the lower-level series that is behavior that requires correction.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Ty Gibbs & the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Let’s be clear here. I don’t care how loud the fans cheered, how much that scuffle was marketed as “boys have at it” or how Gibbs invoked the late great Dale Earnhardt’s overused remark “it doesn’t matter if the fans boo or cheer as long as they’re making noise.” What transpired Friday night did not make the sport look tough, passionate or old-school. It reduced it to a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Friday fraternity party.

There was absolutely nothing redeeming from this mess. The “incident” on track that sparked the brawl was Martinsville racing, as well as par for the course in the era of NASCAR overtime. That both drivers allowed this incident to escalate to blows speak volumes as to immaturity, nothing more.

Then you’ve got Gibbs acting like an entitled brat. Wrecking a car he knew damn well he wouldn’t have to fix himself to send a hollow message about a nothing-burger on-track incident. Then hitting a car on pit road, an absolute no-no even on the go-kart track at the local fun center. Then pushing a NASCAR official out of the way to yell at Mayer. 

Then, creating an utterly laughable image that will stick with him the rest of his career, throwing punches at a competitor all from the safety of his own helmet. Not since Clint Bowyer threw catfight-esque blows at Ryan Newman when he was still strapped in his car has NASCAR seen such a cheap-shot display. 

The way to handle children acting like brats? Discipline. In the racing world, penalties that actually hurt are discipline.

I volunteered to step back into the NASCAR waters that I voluntarily left two years ago for this column solely because there’s a lesson to be learned from the dirt racing beat I now call home. Namely, that being disciplined and sticking to it corrects undesirable behavior.

Two years ago during the USA Nationals, a young Tyler Erb used his car as a blockade under yellow after being wronged, in a more aggressive but not dissimilar display to the one Denny Hamlin put on at Martinsville last fall when he threatened to Days of Thunder Alex Bowman’s car post-race on the frontstretch. Rather than laud the aggression and use the clip in promotional material, the World of Outlaws banned Erb for a full year from the series. 

Erb’s had no issues on-track in World Racing Group events since he was allowed to return.

And just as Hamlin is a veteran that last fall was every bit as guilty of being a brat as the rookies that made a mess of Martinsville Friday night, the big-league dirt racing ranks have showed just as much intolerance for foolish behavior. Eldora Speedway booted Bobby Pierce’s team from the Dream weekend last June because a team member got into it with a racetrack official overnight.

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series last October booted veteran Chris Ferguson and defending World of Outlaws late model champion Brandon Sheppard’s teams from the Dirt Track World Championship after their crews got into a scuffle after preliminary action at the track.

The common thread? Pierce’s crew had no issues when super late models returned to Eldora for the World 100 that fall. Ferguson and Sheppard’s crews haven’t scrapped since.

NASCAR would do well to use the rod. Not to prevent on-track differences from causing injury, but to keep N-A-S-C-A-R from starting to spell W-W-E. – Bryan Davis Keith

Raw Emotions Make Sports Great

Fighting. Oh, what a controversial topic. Yet, racing and fighting go together. They always have. It’s what fans want to see. Usually short tracks, due to their nature of bumping and banging cause the most fights. One of the most popular destinations for racing fans on Saturday nights in the summer is Bowman Gray Stadium. The track has the nickname “The Madhouse” and it’s not just because the racing is exciting.

Like many short track events, a race a Bowman Gray Stadium usually ends with drivers angry at each other and that usually leads to a fight. It’s what the place is known for. It’s also known for being one of the hardest tickets in racing. Every week the place is packed to the gills. Seventeen thousand fans show up every week because they know that main show will be awesome, but the show in the infield after the race is just as entertaining.

Think of one of the most legendary and important moments in NASCAR history- the 1979 Daytona 500. The first live flag-to-flag race on television and while very few could tell you who finished second or third to Richard Petty that day, you can bet your behind that the majority of race fans can tell you who got into a fight on the backstretch after the race. The fight was the most memorable thing from that race and think about where NASCAR would be without it?

Racing is not just a sport. It’s a way of life. No matter what type of racing it is, it’s a huge commitment for all involved. It is not just something you do for money. Heck many of the racers across this country lose money just to go out and have a great time racing on the weekends. The people in racing are extremely passionate about what they do. Winning a race is a big sense of pride for many and when that is taken away from them you can understand the frustration because of the amount of time, effort and money folks pour into this sport.

Plus, the cost of racing is extremely high. Ask anyone who has ever worked in the sport – the sport costs are outrageous and when an accident happens it costs even more money to fix or replace the broken parts and pieces. If someone feels wronged by someone else, it can certainly lead to someone losing their cool. You’d have to be a robot if you didn’t get frustrated by that.

I know some may say that we are talking about NASCAR and NASCAR should hold itself to a higher standard. It is a different animal than a local short track event. NASCAR’s popularity puts auto racing, particularly short track racing, on a national stage. What happens during a NASCAR race is seen by millions across the country and even more throughout the world.

Yet, the money, popularity and prestige behind NASCAR adds another element to racing. The pressure that comes with performing well to please your sponsors is an element that the grassroots racers rarely experience. So it too is understanding when a driver loses their cool in big-time stock car racing. Racing is taken very seriously at all levels but even more seriously in NASCAR.

At the end of the day NASCAR is still racing. There are still passionate racers who love the sport and when something wrong happens you see that passion bleed out. It’s part of all sports. Sports are raw emotion, that’s what makes them great. That’s what people love to see.

Do we really want to take that away from NASCAR? Do we really want to take away one of the few remaining connections to the grassroots of this sport by penalizing drivers for showing their passion? I’m not saying we should encourage fighting and have fighting a regular part of the sport. I am just saying let the emotions flow freely throughout the garage and let the drivers police themselves. Penalizing that and penalizing something that many fans want to see is not a smart business move. It’s something that brings the sport back to its roots. Remember the moniker “Boys have at it!”? Remember how popular that was? There was a reason for that. Keep the emotion in racing. If that means a few fights occur during the season, so be it. – Clayton Caldwell

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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ricky

Acting like an entitled brat and being an entitled brat are two different things This kid is the genuine article!
!

Carl D.

No. Not unless there’s a tire iron involved.

Jeremy

If they are man enough to remove their helmets and go toe to toe, one on one, fist to fist to settle it with no other protection/weapons, then let boys be boys.

If they are a coward and go start a fight while wearing a helmet, use weapons, or take a gang of their buddies to give a group beatdown on one guy, then they should be thrown out of NA$CAR forever.

stubbscupseriesdotcom

So you think Bobby should’ve been thrown out for his fight for Cale when he had his helmet on and Donnie helped him? How stupid. Drivers fight. It happens. I thought old school fans wanted more fights?

Jeremy

If I want to watch a fight, I’ll watch UFC, MMA, boxing, etc. All I’m saying is, if they are going to fight they need to do it man to man, no helmets, no weapons, and no gang of buddies jumping in. Clint should have been thrown out for wearing his helmet while punching at Newman as he sat in the car. Clint wasn’t even man enough to let him get out of the car!

OK, I’ll walk back being thrown out of NA$CAR as that’s maybe a bit harsh. But there should be fines and stiff penalties for attacking a guy while wearing your helmet, while he sits in his car, with a weapon, or with your buddies jumping in.

Reg

Question should NASCAR penalized drivers answer it depends on how much money his family brings into NASCAR .

Charlie

Compromise: Leave the drivers alone, but require them to slug it out for three minutes, if either backs out before that, suspend them for one race.

NOW, the problem is the steriod-raged football rejects that comprise many of the crews. Expel any of them that approach the fight, surround the fight. When the race is over, perform duties and leave. IF they approach the site, expel them permanently. They have no business getting involved.

Steve R

if you want to start a fight, then take your helmet off

DoninAjax

Put them in a squared circle on the front straight.

Bill B

How can NASCAR penalize the goose that lays the golden egg.
I have not seen anything about NASCAR on my local news, but damn if that “fight” didn’t make it on. They have to penalize the safety stuff on pit road when guys drive in and use their cars, but they would only be hurting themselves if they were to have a zero tolerance fighting policy.

TiminPayson

I know that there are lots of $$$ involved but I really think the most effective way to handle this would be for Grampa Joe to park him for a week or two. I’m a fan of his talent but the hypocrisy oozes out everywhere right now.

gbvette

And what’s the common denominator between the fight after the Xfinity race last week, and Hamlin’s childish encounter with Bowman last year? It’s not Martinsville, even though both took place there, it’s NASCAR’s favored owner, Joe Gibbs.

For years Gibbs drivers (such as Busch, Hamlin, little Gibbs, Stewart, etc), have behaved like a..holes, and NASCAR has repeatedly looked the other way. NASCAR would never give Gibbs a penalty like Carl Long got, or like the one Roush/Keselowski recently got. Does anyone believe that Kyle Busch would ever be banned from a Cup race after intentionally spinning someone in a truck race, like happened to Harvick years ago after spinning Gibbs kid in a truck race?

stubbscupseriesdotcom

This comment makes no sense. The penalties you mentioned above were for having an engine that was too big and for illegally modifying parts, both of which are big no no’s in NASCAR. A good comparison for Carl Long’s penalty would be Richard Petty getting no penalty after his 199th win at Michigan, and there really isn’t a comparison for the RFk penalty yet. However, both penalties were deserved because they broke NASCAR rules.

Robert B

Kyle B did get suspended for a Cup race because of an incident during the Truck race earlier that weekend.

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