Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Boys, Have At It -- But Not Too Much

Under normal circumstances, the NASCAR world would still be celebrating Regan Smith's upset win in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway this past Saturday (yes, you read that right; Regan Smith won the Southern 500).

But thanks to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, circumstances became anything but normal.

A quick recap: in the closing laps of Saturday's race, Busch and Harvick were beating and banging on each other -- a situation that wound up costing Clint Bowyer a good finish, as he was on the bottom of the other two in a three-wide mess coming off Turn 4. Busch hit Harvick, who hit Bowyer, who spun into the inside wall.

As the caution waved, Busch hooked Harvick's right rear quarter panel, sending the No. 29 spinning into the outside wall. Cue the green-white-checkered finish. Cue Smith beating Carl Edwards to the checkered flag. Cue post-race antics by Busch and Harvick.

After a brief game of cat-and-mouse (where Harvick attempted to stop in front of Busch to express his displeasure, only to have Busch back away), Harvick pulled into the pits with Busch behind him. Harvick got out of his car and approached Busch's window to throw a punch ... at which point, Busch punched the gas and sent Harvick's driverless car head-first into the inside pits wall.

No one was hurt, but Harvick's crew was ... shall we say, less than pleased.

Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler, and Harvick insinuated afterward that whatever feud he had with Busch wasn't over. On Tuesday, NASCAR handed out $25,000 fines to both drivers, as well as four weeks of probation.

No points, no suspensions. Chump change fines and probation -- and if you've been following NASCAR for any length of time, you realize just how meaningless probation is.

I get that, in a sense, NASCAR painted itself in a corner prior to last season with its "Boys, have at it" edict. How can the sanctioning body tell the drivers to police themselves, then step in with a harsh penalty when the drivers do just that? But in this instance, because of Busch's actions on pit road -- which could've easily hurt someone -- I think NASCAR needed to act.

NASCAR admitted the fines and probation were for what happened on pit road after the race and not for what happened on the race track. But if we're going to use that logic, then Busch deserves a harsher penalty; while Harvick merely threw a punch -- designed to hurt only Busch -- Busch punting Harvick's car out of the way while trying to flee could've caused even more damage.

What if Harvick's unmanned car ran over a NASCAR official or a wandering pit crew member? It's one thing to take your frustrations out on each other on the track, but on pit road when there are people wandering around?

Precedent doesn't really matter -- partly because NASCAR has never let precedent dictate its decisions (unless we're talking about cheating and failing inspection). But NASCAR stuck to its guns last season when Edwards and Brad Keselowski were in the middle of their feud, in large part because NASCAR tied its own hands with "Boys, have at it."

However, there's "Boys, have at it," and there's what Edwards did last year at Atlanta and Gateway. There's "Boys, have at it," and there's what Busch did on Saturday.

I think NASCAR can actually have it both ways; it can still let the drivers police themselves, and it can still drop the hammer when a driver steps over the line. It begs the question what the line actually is, but I think most sensible people can agree Busch crossed it on pit road Saturday night, just as Edwards crossed that line twice last year.

I have no issue with Harvick being punished; like last year, when NASCAR placed Keselowski on probation, it's likely a preventative measure designed to keep Harvick from retaliating any time soon. I don't think Harvick would let something like that stop him, but I think that's the reasoning here.

But why isn't Busch's penalty more severe? He was in the wrong far more than Harvick was, and his actions were potentially dangerous for people not even involved in the fracas. Harvick's actions would've only hurt Busch; Busch's actions could've taken out an innocent bystander or two.

Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Harvick vs. Busch this season -- in part because NASCAR decided not to step in and truly take control of the situation.

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