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NASCAR justice from Darlington was well thought-out

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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When Kevin Harvick tried to punch Kyle Busch (above), Busch pulled forward in his car and rammed Harvick’s car into the pit wall, then no doubt laughing all the way back to his garage.
By the time last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' visit to Darlington-South Carolina was concluded, NASCAR officials must have felt they were standing on a very slippery slope. At the conclusion of last Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500, it was very apparent that their "have at it boys" policy had just been severely tested and we were all wondering if that policy would be altered in some way to establish crystal clear boundary lines. In turned out that NASCAR did a very good job during the process of handling the Darlington situation.

The NASCAR "have at it boys" situation at Darlington actually began last Friday when they called drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman to their official trailer to further discuss their incident from the week before during the Richmond race. Officials were simply taking the driver's temperature and reminded them that their actions would be closely monitored during the Darlington race.

What NASCAR wanted from this Friday meeting was a clear understanding with these two drivers based on open communication. What they received instead was a reported physical confrontation inside of their trailer.

Despite NASCAR's disappointment from that meeting, the worst was yet to come and did exactly that Saturday night. We all saw the final laps of the Darlington race when drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch began beating and banging on each other. We saw the inevitable crash on the front stretch. Then we witnessed the two of them oh so close on pit road and wondered what they were going to do next. The fact that Harvick felt compelled to climb out of his race car and attempt to land a left hook on Busch's face should not come as a surprise. We all saw that coming. The unexpected part of the incident came when Busch used his front bumper to shove Harvick's car out of his way. The result was Harvick's now unmanned car making a sharp ninety degree left turn nose first into the pit wall.

That's was the breaking point for NASCAR officials. The following Tuesday they announced that both drivers were fined $25,000 and placed on probation for the next four Sprint Cup championship points races.

In the aftermath of this announcement, Kerry Tharp, NASCAR Senior Director of Communications, made it clear that the penalties had nothing to do with the on track contact between the two drivers. That part of the incident fell within the parameters of "have at boys."

Tharp did make it clear that the decision to penalize these two drivers was based on what happened on pit road and the safety issues that came with it. Harvick's unmanned car bounced off of the wall in the midst of NASCAR officials, crew members and the media who had already gathered on pit road.

Last Wednesday Tharp made an appearance on the Sirius/XM's Radio program "Sirius Speedway", hosted by Dave Moody, to further clarify NASCAR's position on the penalties. He made it clear that NASCAR has to, and absolutely will, maintain a safe environment on pit road.

Tharp also explained that the two drivers were fined equally because each of them had a level of responsibility while parked on pit road. He also pointed out that both drivers had enough time, while sitting inside of their cars, to calm down and drive away from each other which would have been a far better judgment call.

During the course of that radio interview, Tharp indicated that there would be no changes to the policy of "have at it boys" and further pointed out that NASCAR felt the drivers have done a good job in policing their own matters. "We've seen some terrific, hard racing over the last couple of years and I think the policy is alive and well," he added. That's certainly true.

Regarding the status of drivers Montoya and Newman, Tharp indicated that he didn't feel there would be any penalty coming their way. Despite the alleged intensity of last Friday's meeting, Tharp said it was clear that they eventually got the message and their respective Darlington performances reflected very hard, but very clean, racing. This is also a good call. Montoya versus Newman easily falls within the parameters of the "have at it boys" policy.

There's is, however, one intriguing element with last Tuesday's penalty announcement, regarding Harvick and Busch. It lies within the carefully worded semantics of the press release. The wording specifically states "probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events."

Every NASCAR fan in the world is well aware of what's on the schedule during the evening of May 21st. It's the annual Sprint Cup Showdown and All Star events. This particular evening is the perfect example of a non championship points event. It' also well known that this event is famous for no holes barred, winner take all racing. 

This is not to imply that anyone of these four drivers will intentionally be out on the track looking for their rivals May 21st. However, I'm thinking that many of you have already considered the possibility and can't wait for the All Star evening at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Over the years we have all had a tendency to occasionally point a critical finger at some of NASCAR's policies and decisions. However, in this case, last Tuesday's announced decision regarding these four drivers was spot on and NASCAR deserves to be congratulated. Their sense of justice from Darlington was both well thought out and fair.

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