NASCAR Drivers Split on Whether Postrace Fisticuffs Should Bring Hefty Penalties

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Drivers Divided on Penalties for Postrace FightsDavid Jensen - Getty Images

Ever since NASCAR announced Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s $75,000 fine for hitting Kyle Busch after the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway discussions haven’t focused on whether the JTG Daugherty driver should have also been suspended.

Instead, comments among the competitors and fans have focused on two things:

  • Whether it’s appropriate for NASCAR to fine a driver and then use video of the altercation on its social media platforms and TV to promote the sport.

  • The long-term effect the punishment will have on drivers’ willingness to show their emotions.

“It’s a conundrum,” Brad Keselowski said. “If I’m NASCAR, I certainly want to be careful about the message I’m sending through the garage area and even more than the garage area, through the other levels of the sport about what may or may not be acceptable. So, I understand why they need to react.

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Kyle BuschSean Gardner - Getty Images

“I also understand this competing agenda showing what garners attention in the garage—fights in the garage area—because it communicates a level of passion. Passion itself is not a bad thing. So, I think it’s just this spot our sport is in where we want this attention. We want people to like us. We want people to talk about us. We don’t always get that when we have great events. … But then somebody throws a punch and all of a sudden, we’re on all kinds of non-traditional media. I just have a lot of empathy for NASCAR. If I was in their shoes, I don’t know how I’d handle it any different.”


Stenhouse said Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he had not yet decided whether to appeal the fine.

“I think for the most part the whole industry and fan base has kind of weighed on the side that I feel like I fall on,” Stenhouse said. “It’s cool to see Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Chase Elliott (and) I’d say 90% of the Cup field kind of think the same way. And it seems about 95 percent of our fan base think the same way. That’s nice to have all of them in our corner. It’s still 75 grand I’ve got to pay.”

Ryan Preece said he felt for Stenhouse having to pay a $75,000 fine.

“I couldn’t race because I wouldn’t be able to pay that fine,” Preece said. “We want to show emotion. (But) if I’m ever put in that situation where you want to express your anger or do something, you can’t.”

Denny Hamlin and Busch disagree. Hamlin said that in the “heat of the moment, money doesn’t matter.”

“I think you just care about making a point at that point,” Hamlin said. “I wouldn’t treat post-race confrontations or altercations any different than I would before.”

Busch agrees with Hamlin.

“I think when you feel like you’ve been wronged, you do what you’ve got to do,” Busch said.

However, Daniel Suarez believes Stenhouse’s large fine will adversely affect how drivers express their emotions in the future.

“We have had several conversations with many people and NASCAR at all different levels and the fans want to see personalities,” Suarez said. “They want to see emotions. In my mind, if we go on this route, eventually, every single driver will be acting exactly the same because we can’t show anything. So, I don’t think this is a good thing for the long run.”

Suarez also believed the fine was “a little bit excessive.”

After NASCAR released its penalty report Wednesday morning, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said on SIRIUSXM NASCAR Radio that Stenhouse’s premeditation entered into the decision.

“When you wait 198 laps and you make those decisions that were made, we’re going to react,” Sawyer said. “Granted there was no tunnel, no crossover bridge, but better decisions could have been made throughout that period of time.”

Hamlin said he knew NASCAR was getting a lot of flak for being inconsistent, but he said that wasn’t the case when things were occurring in “the heat of the moment,” that NASCAR “typically let things go a little bit.” However, it’s different when premeditation was involved.

In addition to Stenhouse’s fine, his father Richard Stenhouse was suspended indefinitely for his role in the altercation. JTG Daugherty engine tuner Keith Matthews was suspended for the next four Cup Series races, and JTG Daugherty mechanic Clint Myrick for the next eight. Matthews and Myrick both had Busch in a headlock during the scuffle, but Myrick also pushed the NASCAR security officer who had his arms around Stenhouse’s waist and fell to the ground with him.

When Busch was asked about the penalties Saturday after his sixth-place finish in the BetMGM 300 Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he replied, “NASCAR levies penalties. That’s not my problem.”

Stenhouse and Busch haven’t talked, but Stenhouse said he wasn’t “going to waste my time trying to get him back at Charlotte.”

Stenhouse’s $75,000 fine is the largest NASCAR has assessed a driver for hitting someone, while the $150,000 assessed Richard Childress in 2011 is the largest for a team owner for the same offense. Ironically, the driver both men hit was Busch, who now drives for Childress. The 2011 altercation was after a NASCAR Truck race at Kansas Speedway when Busch owned a truck team.