Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Did NASCAR Make the Right Call Following All-Star Fisticuffs?

What may have been a largely forgettable All-Star Race quickly became one for the ages afterward, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. exacted revenge on Kyle Busch following the lap 2 incident that saw the No. 47 nose into the frontstretch wall. With a warning sounded to anyone in ear shot, Stenhouse Jr. AND Sr. both got in on the action, as Busch was being restrained.

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was fined $75,000 while mechanic Clint Myrick was suspended eight weeks and engine tuner Keith Matthews four weeks.

Did NASCAR make the right call with its disciplinary actions in an exhibition points race at one of the oldest short tracks on the NASCAR calendar? Fittingly, two of the oldest at Frontstretch duke it out — civilly — in this week’s 2-Headed Monster.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: The Reasons for the NASCAR Punch Heard Around the World

Saving the Inmates at the Asylum From Themselves

While Joey Logano was leading wire to wire at the All-Star Race Saturday night, Stenhouse was stewing. Like a Marvel villain arc that originated in the not-fictional town of Olive Branch (oh the irony!), Miss., Stenhouse pined, plotted and laid in wait to exact revenge on his bitter rival Kyle Busch.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic … but a right hook to the head has Stenhouse coughing up $75,000, and his old man can’t watch him race or avoid a rough ass beatin’ from Richard Childress. Was it the right call for NASCAR to come down so hard on the No. 47 team?

I know everyone likes scrappin’ and fightin’ in the pits at a short track – but yes it needed to be done.

A number of factors here aren’t playing in Stenhouse’s favor. It wasn’t as if it was a verbal escalation that became shoving and someone threw a punch. He went on TV – and in the media center – and intimated what he was going to do almost two hours later. A man of his word, he followed through on it, as did his dad and a couple of mechanics on the team. While it did make every sports show and the national news on Monday and is being exploited as free publicity by NASCAR, they do have to address these things head-on (no pun intended).

First of all, there’s the NASCAR Cup Series pecking order. You can’t have this become a regular thing in the Craftsman Truck Series that has plenty of wrecking and hot tempers as it is. Nick Sanchez and Matt Crafton’s war of words and fists last year didn’t go over so well and was addressed by the sanctioning body in a swift manner. There was also some collateral damage in this most recent scrum, with Fronstretch alum Davey Segal taking a tumble as Bob Pockrass narrowly escaped a similar fate – but not without a memeable screen capture.

Second, it’s this kind of clown show theatrics that will invariably be used to justify a desire – for whatever reason – to host an event at Bowman-Gray Stadium. You know, that hallowed ground that sees cars cutting across the facility to wreck someone, with red and blue strobes in the background?

Hours earlier everyone was marveling at Kyle Larson as he flew from Indianapolis after qualifying for the 500, being heralded as one of the greatest racecar drivers in the world — mentioned in the same breath as Formula 1 champions — and then we get guys in cargo shorts taking swings, people tripping over stacks of tires, and security ropes positioned in a way that resembled a WWE ring.

Some deemed it a “FAFO” moment; I saw it as a “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment.

Checking the reaction today, many are slamming NASCAR for being hypocritical.

That is inaccurate on its face. To be hypocritical would be to not fine them, but let it slide and promote it, then fining the next driver who takes a swing at someone and connects. It’s their series and event, they can do whatever they see fit with whatever content is generated during it.

What I do think is a bit disingenuous, was there was no penalty levied against the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team or Busch. Let’s not forget the catalyst for the whole melee – Busch wrecking Stenhouse after he felt he shoved him up into the wall. Numerous replays showed no contact – if anything another half a lane between the two principal combatants.

Richard Childress reaffirmed his fighting days were not yet over if Stenhouse threatened to wreck his car again. Considering who made RCR the winning organization it became and the manner in which he did it is also a bit rich. Maybe NASCAR didn’t think it warranted a fine; it appeared that Stenhouse over-corrected into the wall, or it thought he has suffered enough after hearing Kyle Busch yell, “I suck just as bad as you!” in the aftermath.

Ultimately, fighting is a bad look for the sport. Sure, it makes hyping the next race easy but sponsors don’t like it, and neither do some of us who don’t need to be waterboarded with parallels between this and Daytona 1979 every year leading up to the All-Star Race going forward. We’ve had a lot of great racing the last couple of weeks that’s going to be memory holed by a chaotic scene and what would be premeditated assault and battery in virtually any other setting. As is with many things on the competition side, the sanctioning body needs to save the drivers from themselves sometimes. – Vito Pugliese

See also
5 Points to Ponder: A Fight Proves the All-Star Race Matters

The Instigator Walks Free

A lot of things could have gone differently both during and after Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Kyle Busch could have been a little more patient less than 15 laps into the 200-lap event. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could have left it on the track, or given Busch time to see the video that showed their initial contact was not Stenhouse’s fault.

Unfortunately, none of that happened. Instead, Busch made an aggressive move to Stenhouse’s inside which resulted in Busch getting out of shape and connecting with Stenhouse before bouncing off the wall. His response was to run Stenhouse down and put the No. 47 hard into the wall, ending that team’s night.

In general, when a driver is out of the race early, he’s not going to stick around for a discussion. But North Wilkesboro has one way in and one way out: a crossover gate on the backstretch that was closed for the race. Stenhouse couldn’t leave and had plenty of time to stew. He no doubt saw the replays that showed the initial incident wasn’t his fault.

So, he decided that the discussion wasn’t going to wait and confronted Busch as the two-time champion was walking back to his team’s hauler. The pair shared words, Stenhouse took a swing, Busch made a move to parry and lost his balance. The pair were separated, but Stenhouse’s father and a couple of crewmen followed Busch and his crew onto the liftgate of their hauler.

There was a whole lot of wrong in the situation. But the way it was handled by the sanctioning body was also wrong.

Stenhouse was fined and his father and two crewmen received suspensions. Stenhouse Sr. was suspended indefinitely and the crewmen for eight and four races, respectively.

None of that is inherently wrong. There is precedent for both family members being suspended for getting involved in altercations and for crewmen to receive the same. Drivers have generally been treated more leniently in recent years, but Stenhouse did ambush Busch long after the incident, and Matt Crafton was fined last year for a similar move on Nick Sanchez at Homestead.

Did Stenhouse cross a line? Maybe (NASCAR’s more than 20 social media posts highlighting but not disparaging the incident suggest they were happy to use it to their advantage). His father and crewmen absolutely did and while the length of the suspensions was way over the top for the crewmen in particular, penalties were deserved.

But what about Busch? If the Crafton-Sanchez incident was enough precedent to fine Stenhouse, where was Busch’s suspension?

Remember last year’s Coca-Cola 600, where Chase Elliott intentionally wrecked Denny Hamlin after a minor incident and sat out the next week? Or how about 2022 when Bubba Wallace was suspended for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson after an incident?

Busch’s move on Stenhouse was just as blatantly obvious. It destroyed a car that the No. 47 team, with whom Busch had no beef, had built, and it put Stenhouse in danger.

Stenhouse vowed to wreck Busch in the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend. If he does, he will absolutely be suspended and rightfully so. So why did Busch get a free pass?

What’s that, you say? The All-Star event doesn’t pay points and punishment should not carry over to points-paying events?

That has never mattered to NASCAR. Ask Carl Long; a fine for an engine penalty in the Open (which didn’t help his team transfer into the main event) for all intents and purposes ended his team.

NASCAR’s rules are only as good as the consistency with which they’re applied. The sanctioning body warned drivers over a year ago that intentionally wrecking another car would result in a suspension. And it did. For an entire two times. So is it back to “boys, have at it” and an on-track free-for-all? Or will the next driver to do it find himself sitting at home on a Sunday?

Intentionally wrecking other drivers is a conduct issue, but it’s ultimately a safety issue. Drivers can be hurt in short-track crashes as well as at larger tracks.

Inconsistency in applying the rules ultimately make it look like some drivers or organizations are being given favors while others are used as examples. That’s not a good look for an organization and becomes a credibility issue.

Ultimately, penalties to Stenhouse’s father and crewmen were deserved, though what was levied was excessive. Stenhouse’s being penalized was in line with the most recent similar situation. even if it was compounded by his inability to leave the track. Making it the biggest fine ever dropped for fighting was not necessary.

It’s a bit of a strange flex to use the incident for exposure and then punish the driver for it, but ultimately holding them accountable was fair, though the punishment was a bit like treating a kid who stole a candy bar like a bank robber.

The big mistake in this is that Busch will be in the field on Sunday. And in this case, that’s more wrong than the part NASCAR got right. – Amy Henderson

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

17 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

Hyperbole much?

That joke of a fight was enough to make a dull race “one for the ages”?

You guys try way too hard.

CCColorado

Couldn’t agree more! Shills abound in the NASCAR media world, print and electronic. Chris Economaki, Robin Miller.. rolling over in their graves now!
Only way to get real news/opinions is the pod cast route. DBC my fav.

Steve

Did I really see FOX put Austin Dillon as one of the 3 studio hosts for RaceHub last night? Why didn’t they just invite Kyle Busch on to give his assessment of the whole thing. What a joke. Maybe its a good thing RaceHub is going away. When everyone in the Nascar media is a shill for them, its hardly worth watching anyway.

Ronald Thornton

Haters gonna hate. Probably scheduled in advance. You are probably not smart enough to realize.

Steve

You must be fun at parties Ron. Keep the insults to yourself. Or better yet, maybe get a life.

John

This stuff used to happen all the time, but after the races and out of the view of the public. None of these fights make the drivers look “professional.” Nascar makes the rules, administers the rules (and has shown they will ‘get even’ if the appeals board over rules them), and since there is no Players or Owners Union to provide a check and balance (or at least none with comparably sized genitalia) Nascar will do whatever it wants to until people show their agreement or disagreement by not watching or attending events. But Nascar still has the hammer…they can still giveth or taketh away charters worth 30M a piece. This hammer prevents the RTA or any other bargaining entity of drivers from ever winning an argument such as these penalties for fighting. Making charters permanent is the single most important decision in the next 10 years of the sport…if it lasts that long.

jim

If I was a sponsor and my car got taken out that way I’d have no problem with the driver throwing a few punches.

janice

ok today is thursday, this happened sunday…..stop beating this dead horse….it happened, fine/punishment issued, move on!!!

they need something to keep the interest in the 600 i guess. you know they will talk about that during pre-race show on sunday.

JD Brewski

What? Who exacted revenge on who? Seems to me that it was KB who was the first one that was way out of line and exacting the revenge, albeit unwarranted and unpunished . Lil Ricky should have should have just walked up and popped him instead of messing around and gotten his $75K worth, instead he paid way too much for a $10 semi-wiff.

Bobby DK

Nascar ought to demand if you are going to fight, wear something other than crocs, swim trunks and t-shirt. Bad look. And when do you see a driver not covered in sponsor patches. I think somebody whispered in Ricky’s ear he’d better borrow some fighting duds.

Marcel Jones

Freddie Kraft shows the reality of present day corporate NASCAR. “anything and everything” … to make a buck. No gimmick is too corny now. No amount of hypocrisy is too much.
Get. Every. Last. Dollar.

Ron

Good article, Vito. Trying to figure out why NASCAR does what they do is a losing proposition. It’s the Kyle Busch — Richard Childress operation so we wouldn’t want to be too hard on them. Childress’ threats of retaliation if Stenhouse does anything to offend him make me laugh. (By the way, I liked Stenhouse’s comment about asking Childress to hold his watch . . .)

DoninAjax

NA$CAR hasn’t made the correct call on anything since 2004!

Echo

I think Steve Phelps sorta let us know Ben Kennedy is coming up with all these whacky ideas. During Nascar being awarded the sporting event of the year for the Chicago street race. Of course Lesa would make sure her son can do whatever he wants to Nascar. It’s Ben, little Brian.

Frank A

Fights in Nascar are a joke. The first guy who throws a punch never gets hit back. WHY!!!! Because all the pit crew members jump into the fight to protect him. No one from any team should be able to get into a private fight. Crew members who do should be suspended for 6 weeks. If a guy gets sucker punched he has a right to fight back.

Doc Faust

I’ve been waiting years for somebody with a little boxing or martial arts experience to make these non events more interesting.
I’m among the vast number who would crush Busch’s trachea without warning.
And with their pet incompetents (Associated Medical Retards, known as AMR) on scene, that would be the end.

Doc Faust

For quite a few years, Kyle Busch has needed a rope necktie (as does his oxygen wasting butt buddy Hamlin).
Amazed no one has taken care of that yet.

Share via