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The most unpopular penalty in ages was handed down Monday by the NASCAR fight police. A beloved team owner punched a cocky driver who is less than half his age, and the team owner paid a price.
The have-at-it-boys philosophy does not apply to a 65-year-old icon who decides to teach a lesson to a driver who seems above the law.
Richard Childress got the proverbial book thrown at him (monetarily speaking) for allegedly placing Kyle Busch in a headlock and pummeling him like Nolan Ryan on Robin Ventura.
NASCAR fined Childress $150,000 and placed him on probation through the end of the year.
"I'm responsible for my actions, plain and simple," Childress stated in a press release after the penalty was announced. "I am a very principled person and have a passion for what we do at Richard Childress Racing. I believe passionately in defending my race teams and my sponsor partners. In this instance, I let that passion and my emotions get the best of me."
|Kyle Busch, top, and Joey Coulter were racing hard at the end of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250.|
Knowing Richard, I'm sure he considers it money well spent, despite the mea culpa above. Notice there is no actual apology here.
As for the probation part, well, we all can look at the so-called victim of this incident and realize NASCAR probation means absolutely nothing.
Since receiving his probation for the on-track and off-track altercation with Kevin Harvick at Darlington, Busch tried to set a land-speed record on a North Carolina road in his Lexus.
He also deliberately gave Camping World Truck Series rookie Joey Coulter a post-race bump Saturday because he apparently felt Coulter raced him a little too aggressively in an event where Busch shouldn't be racing at all.
In the watchful eyes of NASCAR, neither of those incidents were probation violations. Apparently, Busch has to place someone in a headlock to violate his probation.
Look, I get it. You can't have team owners physically attacking competitors. Can you imagine Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban heading into the Miami Heat locker room and placing Dwyane Wade in a headlock?
Cuban wouldn't escape that situation without a hospital visit, but that's beside the point. The NBA would fine him a lot more than $150,000 and make sure he didn't attend the remaining games of the NBA Finals.
But there's another issue here for NASCAR -- hypocrisy.
Drivers can deliberately wreck each other at 190 mph on the track and often have no action taken in the have-at-it era. But an old man going after a driver who has shown a pattern of on-track incidents against his team is a major infraction?
This particular incident never would have happened had Busch not felt the need to show a sense of entitlement in a Truck race. Busch felt Coulter, who turns 21 on Wednesday, wasn't racing him fairly at the end and cut him off when Busch tried to pass him.
"Hey rookie. I'm a Cup star. Get out of my way."
|Was Richard Childress standing up for his young driver Joey Coulter, or standing up to an older one -- Kyle Busch -- he thought had done his driver and team wrong?|
No, Busch didn't actually say that, but the implication was clear. And that's the problem with Cup stars in these events. They aren't racing for points and don't really care about the guys who are.
Coulter drives for RCR, and Childress responded like a protective father whose son was threatened by a bully.
So Childress went after Busch and physically attacked him, unprovoked by any physical move from Busch. In the legal sense of the incident, that's assault, even though the man taking action is four decades older than the other guy.
A year ago at the start of the have-at-it era, Carl Edwards received three weeks probation (no fine) for intentionally going back on the track in Atlanta and wrecking Brad Keselowski at 190 mph, causing Keselowski's car to go airborne into the wall.
Speaking again from a legal standpoint, that's assault with a deadly weapon, far deadlier than Childress' fists.
I don't mean to rag on Edwards; he didn't mean for the car to become a missile and only did what NASCAR allowed. The point is what happens on the track, and goes relatively unpunished, brings about other actions off the track that do get punished.
Think of it like this: If you're Busch, or any other driver for that matter, you can do pretty much whatever you want on the track and get away with it as long as you don't physically attack anyone off the track.
If the person you wronged on the track fights back outside the car, he gets the penalty, like the guy who throws the second punch in a hockey fight when almost no one saw the first punch from the other guy.
NASCAR had to punish Childress. That's clear.
Something else is clear, as well. Have-at-it-boys on the track leads to increased incidents off the track, and one is a more serious offense than the other. The wrong one.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.