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.

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