Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Penalty Tuesday: Did NASCAR Get the Penalties Following Charlotte Melee Right?

Brad Keselowski drives the No. 2 Ford during the Bank of America 500.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  

The checkered flag flew over Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet Saturday night, but the drama was far from over. As Harvick burned down his tires on the Charlotte Motor Speedway frontstretch, drivers and crews waged a war on pit road.

The target was Brad Keselowski.

In-race scuffles and battles for position, as well as incidents on pit road left fellow drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth displeased with Keselowski's behavior.

Keselowski hit Kenseth's No. 20 on pit road, at a speed of approximately 50 m.p.h., all while Kenseth had already unbuckled his safety belts and HANS Device. Then Keselowski, (who says he was pushed by the No. 20 of Kenseth), rammed into the rear end of the No. 14 driven by Tony Stewart, which caused Smoke to throw his car in reverse, and ram the front end of Keselowski.

As if that weren't enough, Keselowski and Hamlin chased through the garage area in their cars following the race, causing many to have to duck out of the way. The No. 2 of Keselowski even left tire marks in the garage.

Hamlin had to be physically restrained by his crew as he exited his car, parked near Keselowski's. When asked what he was upset about, he pointed out the last restart, when he was boxed in by the No. 2, and not given the room he needed to advance spots on the track, which resulted in a ninth-place finish, moving Hamlin two spots down in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings.

Keselowski had begun to walk to his team hauler, with cameramen from ESPN following, when out of nowhere he was jumped from behind by none other than Kenseth, known widely in the garage for his cool head and calm temper. He held Keselowski in a headlock/chokehold for a few moments as crews and officials rushed to the scene to break up the skirmish.

Later asked why he was upset at Keselowski, Kenseth pointed to a restart where he was clearly faster than the No. 2, but run up the track and into the wall. Again, a case of the No. 2 not giving way to a faster car, causing damage to the No. 20, and costing them precious spots in the Chase as well. Kenseth finished a disappointing 19th.

What upset Kenseth the most though, was the hit to his car in the garage area after the race. He pointed out to reporters that he was already unbuckled, and could have been seriously injured at the rate of speed at which he was hit.

Fast forward to Penalty Tuesday, if you will, the day which NASCAR hands down penalties for any rules infractions from the previous weekend's race. At 4 p.m. ET, officials announced that Keselowski had been fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next four races. Stewart, who was barely involved, received a $25,000 fine and also placed on probation for the next four races. Hamlin and Kenseth were not penalized. The penalties were for actions detrimental to stock car racing and what NASCAR describes as a behavioral penalty- being involved in an incident after the race.

Do the penalties fit the crimes here?

In my opinion, no. I absolutely agree that Keselowski should have been fined for his actions, but placing anyone in NASCAR on probation is a joke, at best. If officials wanted to send a real message they should have docked points from the driver, hitting him where it hurts: in the Championship standings. Stewart simply reacted to being hit by Keselowski's car and should not have been penalized at all.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to fine a driver that makes millions of dollars a year $50,000 and $25,000 respectively. If the sanctioning body wants to be taken seriously, they need to start handing out harsher penalties for dangerous actions on track and in the garage. Dock points, suspend drivers, whatever it takes to send the message that unsafe behavior will NOT be tolerated. The last time NASCAR parked a driver was in 2011, when Kyle Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday under yellow during a truck race in Texas. Since then, we have seen a calmer side of the sometimes unpredictable younger Busch brother, and he will admit that NASCAR parking him made him think twice about what he was doing.

Until the sanctioning body gets serious about handing down penalties, drivers will continue to act the way they do on the track and off. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a good battle, but when people's safety comes into play, that's where it needs to end.

So in this instance, no, NASCAR did not get it right. Multi-millionaires being fined a day's salary, and having no points taken away or races to sit out does nothing for the advancement of the sport, and with NASCAR already suffering from lower race attendance and viewership, we need all the advancement we can get.

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