Hindsight is always 20/20, so looking back at NASCAR’s decision of an emphasis on winning it shouldn’t be surprising that tempers are flaring at every turn. With time running out before the season finale, another flare up at the Texas Motor Speedway has again put NASCAR in an interesting box.
Post-race fisticuffs have demonstrated that NASCAR handles it as a crap shoot. For the most part financial penalties are used. Precedence for this year includes the famous Ambrose v. Mears situation from Richmond in May, and then there was Charlotte just last month.
In that instance, at Charlotte, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski were involved in post-race shoving matches. On the track, Keselowski and Tony Stewart used their cars to point out their frustrations. Keselowski and Stewart got fines and probation for the use of their cars. Hamlin and Kenseth on the other hand, walked away without any penalty. This seems to fit into how NASCAR has made on track safety a priority after the death of a sprint car driver in August during an altercation with Stewart.
On Sunday there was no on track altercation, minus the contact between Jeff Gordon and Keselowski that led to Gordon losing a tire late in the race and his temper after the race. The race was over and once the cars were parked on pit road, Gordon came down to talk to Keselowski about what happened. While Gordon was yelling at Keselowski and being held back by crew members, Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski close to Gordon, close enough for Gordon to grab onto Keselowski’s uniform and then it was chaos as crew members all piled on top of the drivers. Once it was broken up Gordon had a fat lip and Keselowski had blood on him, presumably not his own.
So what to do this time around? No drivers used their cars to settle scores, so the fine and probation route that was seen at Charlotte is null. Even though both Gordon and Keselowski were left bloodied, neither landed a punch on each other. In fact, it was a crew member of Gordon’s who landed a punch on Keselowski. This then makes the Ambrose/Mears precedent null because no drivers struck one another. That time around Ambrose landed a right hook on Mears’ face, which led to NASCAR having to act.
Then there is the Kevin Harvick variable in all of this. Harvick threw no punches, but was the clear catalyst for the whole scene. His shove of Keselowski got him close enough for Gordon to act and then all Hell broke loose. How should he be penalized and should he be penalized for his part?
The answer to what should happen is simple, no penalties. Add to it that Keselowski’s probation from Charlotte should have no bearing since he did nothing but be a punching bag on pit road. On the track his move that drew the ire of Gordon was a racing moving, he went for a hole between Gordon and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson, and the hole closed up. There’s nothing that NASCAR can or should do to penalize that, it’s just racing. Based on what we saw from Charlotte, tackling a competitor is ok in NASCAR’s mind, so that will clear both Keselowski and Gordon in all of this. Looking at Harvick, I can’t imagine he’ll be penalized based on that as well, especially because all he did was shove Keselowski then get the heck out of there.
While NASCAR is likely to come out and condone the actions of Sunday night, in private they will be loving this. This “boys have at it” type feuding has brought a buzz and excitement to the sport it hasn’t seen in a long time. If the temperature keeps rising, one can only imagine what the scene will be at Homestead in two weeks for the finale.
That kind of unknown anticipation should bring a lot of people either to the track to see it or on TV to watch what might happen. Should everything go well, you know there will be clips from this Chase that NASCAR will make into commercials to promote the new Chase.
If not NASCAR, then Texas Motor Speedway will jump at the chance to promote these antics. Jimmie Johnson ran away with the race on Sunday, one of the more boring races of the season, but no one will remember that. The new Chase is here along with a new era of NASCAR racing, where winning is everything.