Race Weekend Central

Boys, Have at It? NASCAR Sending Mixed Signals With Penalties

Consistency. The word is not typically associated with NASCAR higher-ups who do the decision making when it comes to penalties, yet they’ve managed to at least remain consistent in one area this year.

And it’s an area I wish they wouldn’t.

“Boys, have at it” has been a policy NASCAR has supposedly kept since the beginning of last season, allowing the drivers to police themselves and only reining them in when absolutely necessary. For a while they did very well with that. Many feuds broke out over the course of the 2010 season and if NASCAR reacted, it was with a proverbial slap on the wrist. Otherwise, it was essentially a free reign and fans were treated to some fantastic rivalries and some of the best soundbites in years. Heck, fans even got some cool t-shirts out of it!

This season, however, NASCAR has seemingly taken a step backwards. While on-track issues seem to be OK with NASCAR (a discrepancy I’ll address in a moment), post-race confrontations are a definitive no-no.

The most recent example of this comes in the form of one Jerry Baxter, crew chief for Patrick Carpentier in last weekend’s Nationwide Series race in Montreal. Carpentier, who was competing in his final race before retirement, was turned by Steve Wallace on lap 56, ruining his day. Post-race, an infuriated Baxter walked up to Wallace while he was still seated in his car on pit road, grabbed a handful of hair and yanked.

Whatever he was trying to accomplish didn’t work, as Wallace seemed unfazed by the action and even called Baxter out on it to reporters, saying, “I thought only girls pulled hair.”

Baxter released this statement the Monday after: ““I’m sorry for what happened after the race on Saturday and I take responsibility for my own actions. I called Steve [Wallace] today and apologized. I was just very frustrated and let my emotions get to me. That was Patrick’s [Carpentier] last race and we wanted to make it special. We really thought he had a shot for the win and everything boiled over when that chance went away in the wreck. Everyone was just racing hard and there was no intent to wreck anyone. There’s no excuse for what I did after the race and I apologize to everyone.”

Apparently the apology wasn’t enough for NASCAR as they announced on Tuesday (Aug. 23) he had been fined $5,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31. That was a rather light penalty in comparison to some previous incidents we’ve seen this year. For example, Richard Childress was fined $150,000 for an altercation with Kyle Busch that only a few people saw and Kevin Harvick and Busch were both fined $25,000 and placed on probation for their “fight” on pit road in Darlington.

Still, though, it’s ridiculous. What exactly is NASCAR trying to convey to these teams? Are they allowed to show emotion or not?

Let’s rewind back to the Darlington incident between Harvick and Busch. The two of them had been “having at it” on the racetrack for several laps before the race was over, with Busch at one point intentionally turning Harvick around under caution in an act of retaliation. However, the penalties assessed to them were not a result of what happened on the racetrack.

“These penalties are a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over,” said Kerry Tharp, Senior Director for Communications and Competition. “They are about maintaining a safe environment on pit road.”

Considering what happened on pit road, this was understandable. However, you can’t justify the same logic with the Childress penalty, since no cameras were around to actually prove that it happened and it occurred in the garage area long after the race was over.

The Baxter incident is even less consistent. Neither Baxter nor Wallace were creating a hazard on pit road. Rather, Baxter was expressing his frustration with Wallace (albeit in a rather pitiful manner, a point that Frontstretch’s own Bryan Davis Keith rang home in 5 Points to Ponder yesterday) and they kept it between the two of them.

Unfortunately, NASCAR’s unwanted “consistency” in issuing penalties had one bright spot. After Watkins Glen, Greg Biffle allegedly threw a few punches at Boris Said while he was still in his car, an action the cameras never caught. However, they did see Said charging at Biffle while crewmembers stood between the two of them and caught his harsh comments towards Biffle to reporters. Yet no penalties were issued.

This one inconsistency is, in my mind, the right way to handle things. As long as the two parties involved (or three, or four, etc.) keep it between them and aren’t hurting anyone else in the process, leave them be.

Which brings me to my previous point regarding on-track vs. off-track altercations. Apparently NASCAR is all about maintaining a safe environment in the infield, which leaves drivers the option of “having at it” on the racetrack. Yes, NASCAR, let’s have them exact their revenge on the racetrack while they’re going 200+ mph, endangering their fellow drivers who are not involved in the feud. Makes PERFECT sense!

Let the drivers have at it off the racetrack and they are endangering no one but themselves and providing the “have at it” mentality NASCAR is pushing so hard. Let them “have at it” on the track and there is much more at stake.

After all, every driver occasionally needs a good whoopin’! Just ask Boris Said!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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