Former NASCAR champion turned TV analyst Darrell Waltrip says NASCAR got the penalties against those involved in a post race fracas at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday right. The incident occurred at the conclusion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500.
On the cool down lap after the checkered flag, Denny Hamlin showed his displeasure for contact on a late race restart with Brad Keselowski by brake checking him, slowing his Toyota down, as Keselowski’s Ford neared turn 3. Keselowski tried to retaliate by attempting to spin Hamlin. He failed and nearly spun out himself. As the cars made their way down pit road Matt Kenseth, who was parked and removing his safety equipment inside his Toyota, was hit hard by Keselowski’s Ford.
The contact also involved Tony Stewart. Stewart then angrily backed his Chevy into Keselowski’s Ford. As Keselowski slowly drove his now front end damaged Ford to his hauler, he cut through a garage stall leaving tire marks from a burnout and scattering equipment, and people.
A few moments later, Hamlin and Keselowski, now out of the cars, confronted each other. Both were restrained and pulled apart. Then as Keselowski walked between haulers, Kenseth suddenly ran up and grabbed him putting Keselowski in a bear hug that and shouting obscenities. The two were pulled apart after a few moments and both went their separate ways.
NASCAR on Tuesday assessed penalties to Keselowski and Stewart , handing down monetary fines and probation to both drivers. Keselowski was fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next four events, and Stewart was assessed $25,000 and placed on probation for the next four events. The other drivers involved apparently will receive no sanction from NASCAR.
“NASCAR sent the right message. It’s strong but not too strong,” said Waltrip now a NASCAR on FOX analyst. “If Brad Keselowski had it to do over again, I’m sure he would do things differently. But matters escalated and things got out of control.”
“As a driver, I have been there after a race and know what it feels like.,” added Waltrip who won 84 races and three titles in a career spanning 28 years .”When it’s over with, you wish you hadn’t done what you did. Nonetheless, the penalties for Brad were perfect.”
Waltrip thinks the key to penalties is the degree to which NASCAR dealt them out. He believes some sports are over officiated.
“That has taken a lot of the excitement out from the game.,” Waltrip said. “Our game is a bit different because cars are involved, but the emotion and stress are the same. Keselowski had just run a 500-mile race, and then throw in the fact his whole season could be blowing up before his very eyes because of a bad race — that’s a lot of pressure, and sometimes you just snap. We’ve all had a bit of road rage driving down the highway when a total stranger has made us mad.”
Waltrip may agree with the penalty for Keselowski. As for the Stewart fines and probation, he has some doubts.
“Stewart was minding his own business and probably didn’t know what was going on until he saw Keselowski in his rearview mirror,” Waltrip said. “Stewart reacted to someone running into his car unprovoked. It’s like being in a bar, minding your own business, and the next thing you know, you’re involved in a fight but have no idea how you got caught up in it.”
Since August ,Stewart has been in the National spotlight. On Aug. 9, he was involved in an incident on a dirt track in Upstate New York that ended in the death of another driver. Authorities there elected not to prosecute, and Stewart will face no charges. However, because of his notoriety Stewart’s name leapt to the front of some of the media reports from Charlotte.
“It’s unfortunate Stewart got dragged into this,” Waltrip said.”Because of the incident in New York, the media know who Stewart is, saw what happened and jumped to their own conclusions and made judgments. That’s unfortunate because Stewart had nothing to do with what happened on Saturday night. “
Finally, Waltrip added that he didn’t quite understand why the others involved in the incident were not penalized. Although he did try and reason why they weren’t.
“I guess NASCAR decided Hamlin and Kenseth were more victims than instigators, “Waltrip said. “But Robin Pemberton is a competitor. He and my crew got in a fight in ‘89 at Charlotte, so he has been on both sides of this fence. Mike Helton ran a racetrack, so he understands the promotion side of the sport. With them, we have a good balance when it comes to enforcement and handing out penalties, so whatever their reasons were for not penalizing Hamlin and Kenseth, I’m sure they weighed all the evidence. I was afraid they’d overdo the penalties, but I think they nailed it.”