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Kyle Busch isn't to blame for what happened Saturday night at Darlington and neither is Kevin Harvick. NASCAR is.
In the era of "have at it, boys," NASCAR has lost its teeth.
There was a time when getting called to the NASCAR hauler was a worse fate for a driver than spinning out on Turn 4 of the last lap.
These days, heading to the NASCAR hauler is more like a trip to the therapist. Not fun, but nothing that strikes fear in your heart.
Harvick and Busch each received a $25,000 fine and four weeks of probation for the altercation on and off the track Saturday, about as painful as a downtown parking ticket for these millionaires.
Is there any more meaningless penalty in all of sports than NASCAR probation?
When Busch and Harvick left the NASCAR hauler near midnight Saturday -- after their confrontation on pit road when the Southern 500 ended -- each had a smirk on his face.
|Kevin Harvick went a-spinnin' near the end of Saturday's race at Darlington, but it got more complicated from there.|
It was almost like saying, "Yeah, so what? What are you going to do about it?"
Ryan Newman reportedly threw a punch at Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler on Friday.
Who's really in charge here?
Drivers know NASCAR has painted itself into a corner with the have-at-it theme where almost anything goes on and off the track. Fear of retribution is minimal.
In the Busch-Harvick incident, NASCAR officials have to do something to penalize the drivers. You can't punt a car on pit road and slam it into the pit wall. That endangers lives.
However, if I were an attorney, I could make a heck of an argument for Busch. He was left with two options, neither of which was ideal.
An angry Harvick stopped his car in front of Busch on pit road, and then climbed out to go confront Busch.
But Busch no longer had the reverse gear in his car. That was confirmed later by NASCAR officials. Busch blew the gear out trying to avoid Harvick before both drivers reached pit road.
So Busch's choices were to get out of the car and have a physical confrontation with Harvick, or nudge forward to push Harvick's car out of the way and keep going.
What Busch didn't know was Harvick's car wasn't in gear, so when Busch tapped the rear bumper, Harvick's car turned hard left into the pit wall.
Busch's other option was to get out of the car and fight. When he didn't, some Busch bashers immediately tweeted he was a sissy, or another word I can't use here.
There's more to this than meets the eye. Harvick's sponsor is Budweiser. Getting rough and throwing punches isn't a big deal when your primary sponsor is a beer company.
Busch's sponsor (Mars Inc.) markets to children with M&Ms, Snickers, etc. Doublemint gum was on the car Saturday, but it's all the same company.
Throwing a punch is not an option for Busch and he knows it. So getting out of the car when it was obvious Harvick wanted to trade blows wasn't a good idea for Busch
Busch's crew also knows fighting is a no-no considering what is on their firesuits. Doing so could cost the team a major sponsor, and it also could cost a crew member his job at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Now, back to what happened on the track that caused all this ire. Busch and Harvick have a history of on-track confrontations. Harvick felt Busch deliberately hooked him Saturday night after the two cars made contact late in the race.
Juan Pablo Montoya wrecked Jimmie Johnson earlier in the race, one week after wrecking Ryan Newman. But all these on-track incidents are a result of the philosophy NASCAR set in motion.
The entire "have at it, boys" idea, which NASCAR announced before the start of the 2010 season, has gotten out of hand. Drivers are running over each other every week because they know they can get away with it.
It's time for NASCAR to take a stand and regain control. NASCAR should have a meeting with all the drivers on Friday at Dover and say something like this:
"Guys, we've let a lot of things go the last two seasons and been very lenient, but enough is enough. We're not going to put up with it. Major penalties are coming."
"Have at it, boys" was a good idea, but the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of chaos. This is still a sport, not a free-for-all.
And NASCAR officials should give the drivers one other warning: "If you get called to the NASCAR hauler, you won't leave with a smirk on your face."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.