DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 12: Kurt Busch, driver of the #51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet, is held back during scuffle with Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Wix Filters Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, 2012 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman Crew Members Fined And Penalized For Darlington Incident

Busch was slapped with a $50,000 fine for his role in a post-race altercation with Ryan Newman's crew at Darlington.

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OPINION: Why NASCAR's Penalties On Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman Crew Members Are Surprising

NASCAR has delivered its unique brand of justice again, this time dishing out fines and probation for those involved in a postrace altercation at Darlington Raceway last weekend.

To be honest, though, I didn't see these penalties coming.

Let's start with the least surprising one first: A $5,000 fine and probation for Andy Rueger, the Ryan Newman gas man who ran down pit road to confront Kurt Busch after the race.

Rueger made contact with a NASCAR official – who eventually fell backward onto Busch's hood – so it's understandable why he was fined.

Still, it's a mild surprise considering NASCAR said after the race that the official stumbled rather than was pushed.

"There was a lot of stuff going on down there," NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said at Darlington. "Nobody said anything other than he fell back on the hood. We didn't see anything that was aggressive toward one of our officials."

Next, Newman's crew chief, Tony Gibson, was placed on probation for failing to keep control of his team. Apparently the crew chiefs are responsible for their crew's actions, so Gibson got probation and no fine. That's not very surprising when you think about it, but I didn't anticipate a penalty for Gibson because he wasn't involved in the altercation.

And then there was a gentleman named Craig Strickler, who tried to prevent a TV cameraman from taking footage of the incident. Strickler, who apparently is Busch's motorhome driver, was fined $5,000 for "interfering with a member of the broadcast media." That one is surprising just because I didn't know media interference was a thing (I have a feeling it doesn't apply to writers, though).

Finally, there was a hefty fine to Busch himself -- $50,000 -- and a nine-week probation to go along with it. To me, this was the most surprising because I thought Busch wouldn't be fined at all.

NASCAR said Busch was fined for two reasons: The burnout he did through Newman's pit stall (Busch was livid after he crashed, and he peeled out of his pit while Newman's crew guys were still on pit road, though how close he was to them is up for debate) and for a post-race altercation (Busch hit Newman's car on pit road, though he told NASCAR it was accidental).

I honestly believed Busch would escape without penalty for the burnout part of it, and here's why: Normally, if a driver does something NASCAR doesn't like and it occurs during the race, officials will react with an immediate penalty, such as a black flag or parking the driver for the rest of the race.

In the case of the burnout, that didn't happen. And it's not like NASCAR didn't know about it; Busch's pit stall was in view of the tower and there was a NASCAR official in Newman's pit stall who was standing right there.

So if Busch's burnout wasn't a problem during the race, why did it become a problem later? Did the video (which hasn't been made public) show Busch coming close to the Newman crew members?

I have to believe that if Busch hadn't run into Newman on pit road -- intentionally or unintentionally -- then his earlier burnout wouldn't have been an issue. It seems like NASCAR only reacted to the burnout because Newman's crewmen made it an issue by confronting Busch.

Now, if NASCAR felt Busch intentionally plowed into Newman after the race on pit road (and that depends on who you believe), then a penalty certainly makes sense. NASCAR has made it clear that pit road does not fall under the "Boys, have at it" policy.

But if it was an accident and NASCAR buys that explanation, then Busch didn't have much of a physical role in the altercation itself. So aside from jawing at Newman's gas man and pointing fingers, it's hard to tell exactly why he was penalized.


NASCAR Fines Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman Crew Members For Darlington Incident

Kurt Busch's wallet is considerably lighter after NASCAR hit the driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet with a $50,000 fine and probation until July 25 for reckless driving on pit road during the closing laps of the Bojangles' Southern 500 Sprint Cup race last Saturday night.

Craig Strickler, one of Busch's handlers, was fined $5,000 and placed on probation through Dec. 31 for interfering with broadcast media after the race. Strickler blocked the lens of a TV camera with his hand as Busch was walking down pit road.

Andy Rueger, gas man for the No. 39 team of Ryan Newman, was fined $5,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until June 27 for failing to obey the instructions of a NASCAR official. It was Rueger who was at the forefront of a post-race confrontation stemming from Busch's drive through the No. 39 pit stall after his car was repaired from a late-race wreck.

NASCAR officials tried to restrain Rueger, and during the scuffle, a NASCAR official lost his balance and fell across the hood of Busch's car. NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said at the time that he didn't consider the official's fall the result of a deliberate act, adding that the official simply lost his footing.

Tony Gibson, Newman's crew chief, was placed on probation until June 27 as the person responsible for the actions of his crew.

The penalty announcement of Busch's fine and probation also included a reference to Busch's altercation with another competitor after the race. Rueger, who ran to Busch's car and initiated the altercation, was not cited for the confrontation, bur rather simply for failure to comply with the directive of a NASCAR official.


NASCAR At Darlington: Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman Teams Scuffle After Southern 500

Several of Ryan Newman's crewmen confronted Kurt Busch on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway following an ill-advised decision by Busch to do a burnout through Newman's pit box.

After Busch had a flat tire and crashed with six laps remaining – an incident which also collected Newman – the Phoenix Racing driver lost his cool and began yelling on the team radio.

When Busch completed his pit stop to fix damage shortly after the wreck, he slammed his foot down on the throttle and did a loud, angry burnout while leaving his pit box. The burnout startled fans in the stands and put up a huge plume of smoke, an expression of Busch's frustration at a promising night gone bad.

But while doing the burnout, Busch drove through Newman's pit box as well – and several Newman crew members were still over the wall after recently completing service on the No. 39 car.

The crewmen were infuriated by Busch coming so close to them with his burnout, and several began yelling at Busch's crew to convey their outrage.

"When you come ripping through somebody's pit box like that, he could have took out five or six guys plus the officials pretty easy," Newman's crew chief Tony Gibson said. "I don't know how somebody didn't get run over, to be honest with you. It was a miracle nobody got hit."

Newman told SI.com's Dustin Long he suspected Busch's actions were due to a "chemical imbalance."

"It's easy to see and it's easy to say that Kurt blew a fuse again," Newman said. "I'm not sure why he did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. And nobody is."

Among the angry crewmen was Newman's gas man, Andy Rueger, who went to the No. 51 hauler to await Busch's arrival. Rueger planned to confront Busch immediately after the race.

But Busch's team knew Newman's crew was upset, and so crew chief Nick Harrison instructed Busch to stop at the entrance of pit road and leave the car there instead. The driver was livid on the radio and had been screaming obscenities during the final few laps, and the team felt it would be a good idea for him just to get off the track.

Somehow, though, Busch then made contact with Newman's car on pit road. Busch contended he accidentally ran into Newman while taking off his helmet, but Newman told SI.com he thought Busch did it intentionally.

"Circumstances I think are that he lied and was so frustrated that he doesn't know how to deal with his anger," Newman said.

While all that was happening, Newman's crew got word that Busch was on pit road. Rueger and others ran back out to where the cars were stopped and tried to confront Busch.

"The gas man, he come in there wanting to fight Kurt, raising hell," Harrison said. "I knew it was going to happen. ... After the race, the boys wanted to come down there and raise Cain with Kurt, and that's what they did."

Words were exchanged between the crewmen and Busch (see video below), and a NASCAR official fell onto Busch's hood in the process. Though contact with Rueger sparked the official's tumble, NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said the official just lost his footing.

(Video from RPM2Night.com, h/t @LewisFranck)

"There was a lot of stuff going on down there," Pemberton said. "Nobody said anything other than he fell back on the hood. We didn't see anything that was aggressive toward one of our officials."

Harrison said he and his team felt they had to defend their driver regardless of the circumstances and would do the same thing every time.

"We're here racing with Kurt Busch, we're going to defend Kurt Busch and that's our job," he said. "If you go anywhere racing in any part of America and you don't back your driver up, you don't deserve to be there racing with that driver."

It's unclear whether NASCAR will issue any penalties in this situation. If NASCAR feels its official tumbled onto the hood on his own, then Newman's gas man could go unpunished.

But NASCAR also said it's still in the process of gathering facts, and officials have yet to speak to Busch.

Either way, the incident is certain to get everyone talking.

"They came down there with a bunch of drama," Harrison said. "It's just part of racing. I think that's what great for our sport. If they're mad and want to fight, that's what it is."

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