Commentary

NASCAR finally draws a line

Updated: November 6, 2011, 1:20 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Finally, NASCAR took a stand to try to stop the have-at-it madness.

Enough is enough.

Kyle Busch was sent home for the weekend Saturday morning after one of the most blatantly dangerous actions I've ever seen in a racing event.

He sent Ron Hornaday Jr.'s truck head on into the outside wall at a high rate of speed under caution, a despicable act of inexcusable aggression, in the Camping World Truck Series race Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

Luckily, Hornaday walked away. And thankfully, Busch walked away, too, as in left the building after NASCAR officials told him he was done for the two other races at TMS.

Sunday's Cup race -- an interesting showdown between the top two Chase contenders, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart -- will be better, and saner, because of it.

Everyone who takes the green flag Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) will think twice before making a senseless retaliation move over a racing incident.

Some NASCAR fans will say this was long overdue for Busch, an often volatile driver who has experienced more than his share of controversial on-track incidents.

That really isn't the point. This isn't about Kyle. It's about a philosophy gone haywire.

The whole have-it-it-boys theme, which NASCAR blessed two years ago, has allowed drivers to play Russian roulette on the racetrack, endangering each other's lives without fear of meaningful consequence.

"When we gave the responsibility back to the drivers, there was a clear understanding that a line could be crossed," NASCAR president Mike Helton said Saturday. "As annoying as this is to hear, we've always said we would know it when we see it. We saw it last night."

We all saw it, but it wasn't the first time. That line has been crossed over and over again without a penalty that would fit the crime.

The best example was Edwards' returning to the track in Atlanta in 2010 to deliberately wreck Brad Keselowski at more than 180 mph, sending Keselowski's car flying into the catch fence.

Dave Rogers
Todd Warshaw/NASCAR/Getty ImagesJoe Gibbs Racing crew chief Dave Rogers, left, and driver Michael McDowell -- who is substituting Sunday for Kyle Busch -- start to sort things out on the No. 18 car Saturday morning.

His penalty for that move? A three-race probation. Essentially nothing.

Edwards did receive a stiffer penalty later for a similar move on Keselowski in a Nationwide race (60 points and $25,000), but there was no suspension.

Again, this isn't about Edwards or Busch. It's about bringing an end to the idea that everything goes, that NASCAR is pro wrestling on wheels.

Fortunately, NASCAR made a bold move this weekend before someone is seriously hurt. Busch is in the Chase, although he was no longer in realistic title contention at 57 points behind and in the seventh spot with three races to go.

His No. 18 Toyota has one of the sport's most successful, big-money sponsors in M&M's (Mars Inc.). Mars officials haven't spoken, but as a company that markets primarily to children, will they complain that Busch was parked?

Joe Gibbs, team owner of the Cup car that Busch drives, said it's too early in the process to say what other actions may come internally for Busch. Journeyman Michael McDowell will be behind the wheel of Busch's car Sunday.

"This is a tough situation for us," Gibbs said. "We're trying to go through it the right way and meet with everybody affected by this. I take full responsibility for it."

Busch was driving a truck he owns, not one owned by Gibbs. But knowing Gibbs, a legendary NFL coach for many years and a deeply religious man, I doubt he will let this pass without additional punishment.

Gibbs will do the right thing. NASCAR officials did the right thing, but they had little choice. Consider how a slap on the wrist would have looked coming only three weeks after the death of Dan Wheldon in the IndyCar Series finale in Las Vegas.

TMS also is a track where truck series racer Tony Roper was killed in a crash during a race 11 years ago, before the enormous safety advancements that came following Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona in 2001.

NASCAR has suspended drivers in the past -- Kevin Harvick (in 2002) and Robby Gordon (in 2007) are two examples.

But this is the first time in the have-at-it-era that NASCAR has put its powerful foot down. It's the first time a Chase driver has been suspended during the 10-race playoff.

"The fact that we took this step speaks of the severity of the topic," Helton said. "We understand the ripple effect to this type of move. But we take our responsibility very serious about maintaining control of the event."

Regaining control is a must. NASCAR showed that a driver faces major consequences for such a reprehensible decision as the one Busch made Friday night.

Finally, NASCAR officials realized the madness was out of control, and someone was going to die or get seriously hurt.

Enough is enough.

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 terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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