On Tuesday (Oct. 5), NASCAR announced the fines following the scrum in the garage area at Talladega Superspeedway that left Nick Sanchez busted open and bleeding, and Matt Crafton $25,000 lighter in the pocket. Sanchez was also fined $5,000 for his verbal threats, and his father was also suspended for the rest of the season.
This week we turn to Wyatt Watson – who filmed the now infamous widely shared video of the fracas – and Mark Kristl, as they provide their rationale for the remedy provided by NASCAR, and if they went far enough.
It Wasn’t Just a Fight
Frontstretch editor-in-chief Tom Bowles commended NASCAR for staying consistent with its penalties, stating NASCAR appropriately penalized Sanchez and Crafton. He’s right… but it was not “just” a fight. As such, NASCAR failed to penalize both drivers for their actions on Saturday (Sept. 30).
NASCAR should have levied at least a one-race suspension against Crafton. He not only was involved in a fight, but there was more to it.
For starters, when he wrecked his No. 88, he parked his truck in front of Sanchez’s Rev Racing pit stall. Crafton then left it there and “directed harsh words toward the No. 2 team.” While the broadcasters glazed over it, NASCAR did nothing about it. No penalty, no fine given to Crafton’s ThorSport Racing team for having to move its vehicle out of another team’s pit stall, nothing.
Crafton then changed out of his driver’s gear and waited for Sanchez without informing NASCAR, his own team or Rev. It was by any definition, a premeditated encounter. To boot, what he did think would happen? Sanchez would apologize? It was a racing incident at Talladega with three laps to go. Big crashes happen when two drivers try to go for the same piece of real estate; not exactly anything new for Talladega – or the Truck Series for that matter.
Sanchez described Crafton’s punch that left him bloodied as a, “cheap shot.”
Regardless of what was said, a fight after a premeditated encounter combined with leaving a racecar in someone else’s pit stall garnered only a fine?
When Josh Williams infamously parked his racecar on the racetrack in Atlanta earlier this year, he received a one-race suspension. He did not lose his temper toward any other competitor or team or get physical with anyone. So how did Crafton receive a lesser punishment?
The premeditated portion is the most troubling. Crafton is an accomplished series veteran and a three-time champion. He should’ve taken time to cool down before the end of the race. Clearly, he didn’t cool off. Yet a fine is supposed to quell his anger? While I don’t know Crafton’s financial situation, having amassed over $7 million in career winnings since they stopped listing purse winnings after 2015, $25,000 likely is not going to truly hurt his bank account.
Plus, if he did not cool off during the time between the wreck and confronting Sanchez, instead becoming more incensed, how are we supposed to know Crafton will have cooled off come Homestead-Miami Speedway?
What if he hasn’t? Sanchez is still battling for a Championship 4 berth. Crafton is already eliminated from the playoffs. An intentional wreck might garner Crafton a suspension, but he has far less than Sanchez to lose in that race. Instead, a one-race suspension would guarantee he will not be a problem at Homestead, it would allow Sanchez to truly compete for a Championship 4 berth and hopefully Crafton would learn his lesson.
Sanchez did not deserve a suspension for his words, but he should have received Crafton’s fine amount instead of his $5,000 fine, as well as been required to undergo NASCAR’s sensitivity training.
After all, Sanchez didn’t say, “I’m going to wreck you,” “Watch your back,” or simply profusely swear at Crafton. He said he was going to kill him.
Even in the heat of the moment, that’s a conscious choice to use those words.
He simply cannot do that, even if he was just punched.
In an era when NASCAR does not take kindly to drivers using inappropriate words [Kyle Larson and Hailie Deegan both can attest to that] and people recording some much with their smartphones, Sanchez twice said something wrong in a viral moment. He must learn. A larger fine and sensitivity training would accomplish just that.
NASCAR had the opportunity to address the negative impact the actions of both Crafton and Sanchez at Talladega. Instead, they both got a fine and we are left to wonder if their mutual dislike of each other will carry over into Homestead, a race which should be highlighted by drivers’ quest to make the Championship 4, not wondering whether the Nos. 2 and 88 will wreck each other at every chance they get. – Mark Kristl
The Fines Are Appropriate
The scene in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series garage area of Talladega was bloody and filled with assured threats between a rookie battling for a championship and a 24-year veteran and three-time champion of the Truck Series who was taken out of the race.
It was clear that after the wreck involving Crafton and Sanchez and after Crafton parked in the No. 2’s pit box, the two would meet to discuss the incident. But the punch delivered by Crafton caught everyone off-guard. As well it should have; it happened over half an hour after the incident had taken place.
Once I started filming what essentially was the aftermath of the fight and heard clearly the threats that were made between Sanchez and Crafton, and a NASCAR official came asking for the exclusive tape of the aftermath, I knew that these two would find themselves within the crosshairs of at least a financial penalty from the sanctioning body – if not suspension from competition.
To their credit, NASCAR did exactly the right thing.
Sanchez threatening to “f***ing kill” Crafton at Homestead multiple times certainly flagged the $5,000 dollar fine that he received, and the response by him is certainly appropriate.
As for Crafton, his penalty hearkens back to a penalty delivered in the NASCAR Cup Series almost a decade earlier.
At Richmond Raceway in 2014, Marcos Ambrose was handed a $27,000 fine for giving a cheap shot to Casey Mears in the garage area after being spotted by FOX Sports cameras delivering the blow to him as they were discussing an on-track incident. Ambrose wasn’t hit with a one-race suspension for the blow, appropriate and following a trend NASCAR has followed throughout its history.
While there are stories of drivers punching each other – Kyle Busch and Joey Logano at Las Vegas, or Tony Stewart punching Kurt Busch in the NASCAR hauler at Daytona – rarely does it end with the graphic image of Nick Sanchez with his face covered in blood.
Given the nine-year difference and the fact that the altercation involved Truck Series drivers, I still believe that Crafton’s $25,000 penalty follows the trend that NASCAR set beforehand when it comes to a cheap shot, although alleged in this case.
Additionally, I believe the $25,000 number can also include the incident could silently include Crafton having parked and abandoned his truck in the No. 2’s pit box.
If NASCAR ruled it that way, then I will trust that that was the right call; however, calling for either driver to be suspended for an altercation off track and essentially out of view of (most) of the media cameras and fans would be a bit heavy handed.
They didn’t assault each other with a weapon, and both these drivers are grown adults. Sanchez was within range of a very pissed off driver, and what happened between the two should not result in either a suspension for Homestead or a points penalty affecting Sanchez’s run for the championship.
It’s relieves me that the two will be able to compete at Homestead, and it will certainly be fun to see the two duke it out with Sanchez’s talent at the bigger tracks and the points situation surrounding him. – Wyatt Watson
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