Per NASCAR, it's throwing a punch that crosses the line if you're fighting in the pits after a race. I guess headlocks aren't hardcore enough. Four crew members were hit with fines and suspensions, and their crew chiefs were fined and placed on probation for not properly overseeing their crew.
NASCAR Senior Vice President for Competition and Racing Development* Robin Pemberton had this to say about the melee:
While the intensity and emotions are high as we continue through the final rounds of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the actions that we saw from several crew members Sunday following the race at Texas are unacceptable. We reviewed the content that was available to us of the post-race incident along pit road, and identified several crew members who crossed the line with their actions, specifically punching others.
We therefore have penalized crew members as well as their crew chiefs, as they ultimately are responsible for members of their team per the NASCAR rulebook. A NASCAR championship is at stake, but we can't allow behavior that crosses the line to go unchecked, particularly when it puts others in harm's way.
So, let's take a look at what happened. From the video taken from pit lane, it's clear that crew members started getting physically aggressive towards each other before the drivers did.
Jeff Gordon went over to Brad Keselowski to have some stern words with him over a pass Keselowski made in the race. Keselowski cut Gordon's tire trying to shoot through a gap between two cars, causing Gordon to spin out and lose his position.
Then, as seen on the televised angle of the fight, Kevin Harvick comes up from behind and pushes Keselowski, tipping over the giant bucket-o-rage into a full-on, multi-driver, multi-crew fistfight.
Harvick felt as if Keselowski's pass was a bad move as well, as he explained in remarks to USA Today:
If you're going to drive like that, you'd better be willing to fight. It's like I told him, "If you're going to drive like a madman, you'd better be willing to take a few punches." He was going to stand behind his guys. Jeff Gordon deserved to at least have a face-to-face conversation with him.I said, "You're the problem. Get in your own fight."
Keselowski and Harvick have a bit of a history with each other, dating all the way back to a post-race interview two years ago where Harvick gave Kes a slap on the cheek.
Keselowski took a dig at the fact that Kevin Harvick's company represents two fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, explaining to USA Today, "If I wanted to be a fighter, I would have joined the UFC or have a management team like he does."
Keselowski went on to explain that "true race fans" are uninterested in all this fighting in NASCAR. Personally, I think he's on to something with that. I'd much rather be writing up another feel-good story about celebratory doughnuts than trying to explain the rules and regs that govern what happens when grown men revert back into sixth-graders-at-the-flagpole-at-recess mode. You see, doughnuts are universally loved. Everyone likes doughnuts. Everyone.
Fights are more of a love-it-or-hate-it aspect of NASCAR. Some folks love that it means the drivers aren't overly PR-leashed robots. I get that, although I think perhaps it's more respectful to settle differences in less physical ways, such as mooning the offending fellow from across the paddock or occasionally flipping him the bird for being a [bleeeeep]. I don't know, get creative. The same fisticuffs, different week story is getting old.
What Rules Were Violated By The Crew?
Crew members Jeremy Fuller, Dwayne Doucette, Jason Ingle and Dean Mozingo were found in violation of Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and Section 12-4.9 (behavioral penalties. Mozingo got the 12-4.9 penalty for an altercation with another pit crew member, while the other three violated 12-4.9 for an altercation with a driver.
Fuller crews for the Kasey Kahne's #5 car, while the other three are on #24, run by Jeff Gordon. Both #5 and #24 cars are run by Hendrick Motorsports.
The altercation-with-a-driver three got a $25,000 fine and a suspension for the next six Sprint Cup championship points races. Mozingo "only" received a $10,000 fine and a suspension for the next three Sprint Cup championship points races.
Because they couldn't keep their crews in line, the crew chiefs for the #5 (Kenny Francis) and #24 (Alan Gustafson) cars got hit with penalties as well. In addition to violating Section 12-1 and Section 12-4.9, the crew chiefs were found guilty of violating Section 9-4A (crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his crew members). Francis and Gustafson received a $50,000 fine and have been placed on NASCAR probation for the next six Sprint Cup championship points races.
Hey, Uh, Isn't Someone Else On Probation?
Yeah. Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski's unsafe driving shenanigans after the race in Charlotte earned him a $50,000 fine and four-race probation. He was found in violation of the same Section 12-1 and Section 12-4.9 parts of the rulebook as the crew members.
Texas Motor Speedway's race was race number three of that four-race probationary period.
No penalty assigned. Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Brad walked out of this totally scot-free (unless you count the hits to the face), despite being right in the middle of the melee. Kes didn't exactly run away from the confrontation, nor did Harvick or Gordon.
All I know is that if I were on probation during a championship I'm still competing in, I'd try to out-goody-good Mother Teresa until I was in the clear. If a fight breaks out, RUN AWAY.
Uh, How Is This Fair?
I'll be blunt: it's not. Well-heeled drivers can eat a $50K penalty and some time out from their jobs, no big deal. Crew members, not so much. Even though Sprint Cup crew members can make quite a bit, $10K is a much more significant chunk out of $100K than it is for a millionaire driver's paycheck—and that was the smaller penalty.
It also doesn't make sense given that Matt Kenseth got zero penalties whatsoever for jumping Brad Keselowski just last month at Charlotte.
On the other hand, Keselowski's lack of probation violation fits in line with his previous penalty being for the use of a multiple-ton rolling weapon to intentionally cause chaos. No car, no care. (Or so we thought.)
But nope! There was no car involved in this fracas, yet a whole host of crew members got slapped with penalties. Part of me hopes NASCAR just wants to penalize anything where another person could get hurt. Grabbing firesuits, shoving, cussing someone out, headlocks = fine. Actually hitting someone in the face = not so fine.
If you suspend reality for a bit and ignore the fact that, say, pushing someone around could lead them to fall down and get one heckuva bruised butt, what's being punished sort of makes sense.
Part of me also feels like this was probably a more stern penalty because of the increased scrutiny on NASCAR fightin' after Charlotte. This is purely conjecture pulled entirely out of my butt, but I can't help but feel like they changed the game mid-season without really giving folks a heads-up about the stiffer penalties for throwin' punches. We just had a fight in the pits, and it got nothing. Kenseth could've hurt Keselowski at Charlotte. What changed here?
Problem is, penalties should be the same no matter when the offending action occurs. If there's a change in rules or the level of enforcement that a certain offense will receive, that needs to be communicated beforehand so everyone knows. Otherwise, it's not really a deterrent to have stiffer penalties. It's a crapshoot.
*This title is still quite a mouthful and sounds very corporate, which all this fightin' is clearly not. Can this be shortened to Penalty Dude? Penalty Dude is to be feared. Penalty Dude is not to be messed with. Penalty Dude will yank your hard card and could force you write on your car with Easy Cheese if toyed with. Penalty Dude ain't care. Penalty Dude does what he wants.
Photo credit: Getty Images