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September 30, 2014

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Were NASCAR’s penalties the right ones?

When a Sprint Cup driver loses his ability to practice anger management after a race, I’m usually more impressed if he confronts his competitor directly as opposed to using his car to make a statement. I don’t have a problem with drivers roughing it up during the race in the spirit of “boys have at it.” But once the race is over, march over to your opponent and deal with him face to face.

In a move I can’t remember seeing before at a Cup race, Kevin Harvick decided to use his car and a face-to-face confrontation in one combined effort to express his anger with Kyle Busch. Harvick tried to position his car as a blocking mechanism to corral Busch so that Harvick could then take a physical shot at Kyle as he sat in his car. It was a creative approach by Harvick. But it only led to Kyle bucking Harvick’s No. 29 machine into the pit wall, which then gave NASCAR the incentive to hand down today’s penalties.

NASCAR stated that its decision to fine each driver $25,000 and place them on probation for five weeks was “a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over.” Handing down the fines makes sense. Pit road is where pedestrians like NASCAR officials can be milling around. So it has to be a controlled environment to lower the possibility of someone becoming a hood ornament.

But I’m less inclined to agree with probation for the two drivers. If NASCAR wants to be less parental in the way it polices drivers’ track behavior, then why impose probation that will ensure that the two drivers stay away from one another for the next four Cup races? NASCAR has always thrived on rivalries, but squashing the potential for drama in the sport won’t help to promote the “boys have at it” atmosphere.

This doesn’t mean that races should be demolition derbies where drivers do nothing but settle scores for 500 miles. And NASCAR has to demonstrate what line can’t be crossed. But in this case, I think the governing body should have only imposed the fines and left open the option of probation if things continue to get out of hand.

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