NASCAR fines Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears; ignores double-standard

Jerry Markland

NASCAR fined Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears for their involvement in a post-race altercation Saturday night at Richmond, which is its right, but is the organization being hypocritical by having profited on similar drama in the past?

Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears were fined $25,000 and $15,000, respectively, Tuesday for their roles in a fight following Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway. Both were placed on probation until May 28.

It's a decision that on one hand is acceptable considering the circumstances, which involve a competitor punching another in the face. On the other, it's the exact kind of behavior NASCAR has long trumpeted, alongside close finishes and spectacular crashes, as being a fabric of the sport.

Because of the raw emotion involved, sports exist in an alternate universe where boorish behavior is often excused as a player "being in the heat of the moment," and it's why Ambrose slugging Mears is understandable on some level.

Immediately following 400 laps of intense short-track racing Ambrose was accosted by Mears, and when Ambrose tried walking away Mears grabbed him from behind and spun him around.

Ambrose reacted as many would have in a similar situation: He punched Mears. It doesn't excuse his actions, but it does provide context.

Nascarpunch
Now, does Ambrose deserve some sort of punishment for his actions? Yes. No sport can tolerate one of its participants acting as judge, jury and executioner and openly striking another.

However, is Ambrose's transgression really worth $25,000? And why is Mears, who did nothing more than grab Ambrose's arm, being docked $15,000? The penalties seem overreaching when a nominal fine would have sufficed.

Then there is the giant paradox created by Tuesday's announcement.

Frequently NASCAR and its television partners like to promote the sport with commercials showing drivers engaging in some form of fisticuffs. These ads run with such regularity it would be easy to deduce that every Sprint Cup event was merely a prelude to a post-race boxing match.

The 1979 Daytona 500 is often viewed as the seminal moment when NASCAR went from a small, regional sport to an organization now held in the same regard as Major League Baseball and other ball-sport brethren. And this transformation had little to with the fact that Richard Petty, NASCAR's most popular driver, won that afternoon, or that it was the first stock car race to be broadcast flag-to-flag to a national television audience.

No, the acclaim heaped on the 1979 Daytona 500 revolves around a last-lap crash between leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison that spilled over into a fight in Turn 3 that also included Allison's brother, Bobby.

All three were fined and threatened with suspensions. Yet, then and now, the three combatants are universally acknowledged for their pivotal role in launching NASCAR into the sports stratosphere.

It's a hypocrisy NASCAR would prefer you ignore as it condemns and then profits from the same behavior.

If NASCAR wants to fine Ambrose and Mears for "actions detrimental to stock car racing" then the sanctioning body has that prerogative. Just make sure the marketing department gets a memo not to use the video in its next commercial.

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