Of course, people who care, and a lot who probably don’t, are aware of the post-race fireworks following Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And by know, those who care surely know of the fines assessed to Brad Keselowski ($50,000) and Tony Stewart ($25,000) and the lack of fines for Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. So I won’t go into details here, describing the incident. I will say that I hope you didn’t rely on Good Morning America or Inside Edition for a description of events. Okay, off that soapbox.
Anyway, in the time since penalties and non-penalties were announced late Tuesday afternoon, I’ve noticed a lot of the comments, critiques, criticisms and approvals from fans voicing their opinions on social media and the various call-in shows on SiriusXM NASCAR radio.
Questions and comments from fans have ranged from agreeing with the penalties, that Keselowski wasn’t penalized enough, that Stewart shouldn’t have been penalized, to confusion about why only Keselowski and Stewart were penalized while Kenseth and Hamlin were not.
“These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race,” a quote from NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton stated in the Tuesday penalty announcement from NASCAR. “We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised.”
Going on past penalties and statements made by various NASCAR officials regarding those penalties, here’s my take or reasoning:
- NASCAR has an issue with drivers using their cars as “weapons,” especially on pit road and in the garage where there are crew members, fans, media members, etc., who are standing around, i.e. not in cars, who stand the chance of being struck by said mobile “weapons.”
Kenseth jumping Keselowski between two haulers in the garage was done outside the car, so no bystanders were in significant danger. Hamlin having to be held back by team members was also outside the car.
As far as Hamlin following Keselowski through the garage, speeds were low and no contact was made.
- Keselowski and Stewart, though, did at least part of their talking with their cars in areas in which there were people outside of vehicles, i.e. pit road. I don’t think Keselowski’s contact with Hamlin on the track had anything to do with his penalty. I’m thinking Keselowski’s penalty came as a result with his in-car contact with Kenseth and then Stewart on, both of those incidents coming on pit road. That contact with Stewart then resulted in Stewart backing into Keselowski’s car in retaliation. That’s where Stewart’s penalty comes in.
- The differing penalties for Keselowski and Stewart come, I think, from the number of hits. Stewart made contact with Keselowski only, backing into him after being hit by Keselowski, so $25,000 for that one hit. Keselowski hit both Kenseth and Stewart on pit road. Two cars hit at $25,000 apiece equals $50,000 — easy math.
Where things get a little murky for me, though, is when you compare the Kenseth/Keselowski out-of-the-car-garage altercation to that of Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears after the April race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. After the Ambrose/Mears incident, Ambrose was fined $25,000 and Mears $15,000.
One think I’ve heard, and this is assumed speculation, is that Ambrose incurred a fine because he punched Mears in the eye. In the video of Keselowski and Kenseth in the garage at Charlotte, there was no indication of a landed punch, just some grabbing and shoving. With that alone, the non-penalty in this most recent case makes sense.
But what about Mears’ fine after Richmond? That $15,000 fine was, reportedly, for pushing Ambrose, not for punching him. The one punch thrown in that incident came from Ambrose. So, should Mears try heading to the NASCAR customer service counter to demand refund? Okay, I realize that wouldn’t work; it was just the analogy that popped into my head.
Other than the Mears comparison to Kenseth, I don’t have an issue with these penalties. And really, I guess I don’t have an issue with it, even if you do throw in that comparison. It just leaves me scratching my head a little. Maybe I’m just still surprised to see that side of Kenseth. It’s not a side of him we’re used to seeing.
What do you think? Take an online poll, here.