NASCAR's announced $150,000 fine and year-long probation for team owner Richard Childress set off a firestorm of criticism from fans and media alike. Earlier in the day, our own Jeff Gluck said NASCAR flubbed the call and made the sanctioning body to appear "clueless, out of touch and biased toward certain individuals."
I have to respectfully disagree with Gluck's comments. In my opinion, I believe NASCAR got this call just right.
NASCAR is a sport built and promoted by the unique character of the individual competitors, the passion they show on and off the race track, and the emotions those competitors stir in the fans that follow the sport.
One of the most historic moments that is often shown, almost idolized in a way, is the epic ending to the 1979 Daytona 500. There some of the sport’s biggest names, Allison and Yarborough, not only go toe-to-toe, but get in a knock-down drag-out fist fight on the backstretch – live on national television. Not only is that clip shown on a nearly weekly basis, it is featured in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
So, is this the only incident where NASCAR drivers or teams have come to blows on the track or in the garage? Certainly not.
The 1989 Winston All-Star Race saw one of the biggest brawls in NASCAR history. This confrontation did not happen in the private confines of the garage area, but right in front of the public as Rusty Wallace’s race winning car was kicked by one of Darrell Waltrip’s crew members.
The ensuing brawl saw crew members punching, kicking, biting, slamming each other up against an ambulance – you get the picture. The fight brought attention to the sport and, just like the 1979 fight, became NASCAR legend and was shown on repeat on numerous highlight reels.
Now, are fines for fighting uncommon? Not at all.
In 1996, Jimmy Spencer was fined $10,000 for trying to fight Wally Dallenbach after an on-track incident at Dover. Following that same race, Kyle Petty was fined $5,000 and Michael Waltrip fined $2,000 for threatening each other. No blows thrown, just trying to fight and threatening each other.
Fast-forward to 2002. Kevin Harvick bounds over Greg Biffle’s car at Bristol and grabs him by the fire suit after the race. Harvick was fined and placed on probation, but two weeks later he spun out Coy Gibbs in a Nationwide Series race and was parked by NASCAR. After beating and banging for a number of laps, then spinning Gibbs, Harvick was parked and then suspended by NASCAR for that weekend’s race at Martinsville. This was an incident where Harvick had been involved in a very public physical confrontation where no punches were thrown, then violated his probation shortly thereafter.
We then return to Jimmy Spencer. He and Kurt Busch waged an epic battle on and off the track in 2003. Busch called Spencer a washed up has-been and after a race in Michigan Spencer punched Busch in the face. That incident resulted in a week-long suspension for Spencer.
Heck, Lee Petty once got into a fight with Tiny Lund prior to a race in Greensboro, N.C. that dragged sons Richard and Maurice into the fracas. That incident ended when Lee’s wife hit Lund on the head with her purse – made all the heavier with .38 pistol inside.
Again, I emphasize, fighting in NASCAR is nothing new. Raw emotion and passion for the sport is what drives the competitors each and every week, and sometimes those emotions get the best of them.
So, back to the topic at hand. Should NACAR have come down harder on Childress for his incident with Kyle Busch? I think not. Sure, Childress is a wealthy team owner that will essentially make a $150,000 donation to the NASCAR Foundation. Of course his actions are not what you want to see a team owner do in today’s sport. Yet, you have to consider Childress’ point of view for a moment.
One of the only team owners that truly stretches back to NASCAR’s past, Childress was perhaps the closest in the garage with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Fans admire ‘The Intimidator’ for his toughness and refusal to back down from anyone. When someone had a lesson to learn in the garage, Earnhardt was usually the one to teach them.
There is no doubt Busch is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR, yet he is also a driver that polarizes fans and causes controversy in the garage. This season alone, Busch has had run-ins with multiple drivers, especially in the RCR camp. At what point does Childress say enough is enough? Apparently this weekend in the Truck Series garage.
While I do not condone his actions, I will say this is a sport – a sport built on emotions. Childress had his reason for doing what he did, and in his statement on the fine, he stuck by that. He did not apologize; instead he explained his emotions and passion for the sport got the best of him – plain and simple.
NASCAR made the right decision to fine Childress and place him on probation. Sure, the fine is a drop in the bucket for the multi-millionaire, sure probation for a team owner is essentially meaningless, but his actions fall in line with what made NASCAR the sport it is today – passion, emotion, the desire to win and fight for your team.