NASCAR should thank drivers Nelson Piquet Jr. and Brian Scott for acting like schoolchildren after Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Richmond, Va.
Kevin Harvick's last-minute Sprint Cup victory Saturday night as well as the post-race finger-pointing by Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart helped, too. But the real buzz all weekend continued to be about Piquet and Scott.
Their post-race altercation – that ultimately led to the arrest of two of Scott’s pit crew who have each been charged with assault – diverted attention from what should have been the dominant topic of conversation this weekend: the odd behaviour exhibited recently by the sanctioning body itself.
Since the first of the year, NASCAR has fined a driver, Denny Hamlin, $25,000 (that’s 25 thousand dollars) for saying the new Sprint Cup car isn’t as good as the old one.
Then, after a driver complained that a team was using parts his team didn’t have, NASCAR swooped down on Team Penske and seized those parts and levied fines of $100,000 against the two crew chiefs involved and suspended them for six races. The drivers each lost 25 points, as did the team. Their crime? Using unapproved parts. Not illegal parts; unapproved parts.
Then, early last week, because one of eight connecting rods inside a motor built by an engine supplier was slightly under weight, a crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing was fined $200,000 and he and owner Gibbs were each suspended for six races.
The Penske penalties, and those levied against Gibbs, are all under appeal and could be lessened or even reversed. But that's beside the point. The fact that NASCAR was so heavy handed - particularly in the case of Gibbs - is what's disconcerting.
It is, ladies and gentleman, abnormal behaviour. You want a definition of arrogance? This is it. The disdain currently being shown the independent contractors responsible for its success by NASCAR is typical of monopolies: they are right, every time, and everybody else is wrong, every time.
The reason NASCAR has such a tight rain over the teams is its trump card: it owns most of the tracks where the series goes to race. NASCAR really does own the sandbox and if you want to play in it, you have to do it their way.
While teams in other leagues have revolted against contemptuousness of the kind being shown by NASCAR these days – Indy car racing has been through two or three rebellions/civil wars in the last 30 years and Formula One has come close on at least two occasions – NASCAR has been the only stock car racing game in town so everyone sooner or later falls into line.
But I suggest if NASCAR continues down this narcissistic road, there can't help but be consequences eventually. Take Joe Gibbs, a God-fearing man of exemplary character who doesn’t have a blemish on his reputation. You can't call him a cheater and not expect a backlash.
NASCAR has beaten back anti-trust lawsuits in the past but what goes around comes around and sooner or later there’s going to be a fall. And they were getting very close to that precipice when Piquet Jr. and Scott saved their bacon on Friday night. On Saturday night, Busch and Stewart added to the distraction.
On a late restart in the Cup race, Busch moved Stewart out of the way. Tony, who's not having a good year at all, fell from a top five finish to a top 15. He was not pleased and let Busch know it in the garage area later.
Busch, who thinks his newly calm, cool and collected demeanor will somehow endear him to fans (it will never work, Kurt), explained in what he thought was a rational manner (translation: sense of superiority) that there was all sorts of pushing and banging and bunting going on in the last few laps and that it was all part of the game and he didn't know why anybody else (read: Stewart) couldn't understand that it was just all good competition.
They're going to Talladega next weekend. We'll see how calm, cool and collected Busch is after that race.
Meanwhile, on Friday night, Scott and Piquet had sideswiped each other a couple of times during the race at Richmond – won by Brad Keselowski, by the way (click here for a Nationwide story and finishing positions and click here for the Cup story and results) – and then continued their tradin’-paint ways on the cool-down laps.
Both got out of their cars and Scott immediately hustled over toward Piquet (he said later that he was going "to talk" to him) and one thing led to another and the pushing-and-shoving ended when Piquet kicked – or tried to kick – Scott in the crotch.
Scott complained to a TV reporter that Piquet kicked him below the belt – which Scott labelled a chicken move – leaving one to think a kick above the belt would have been okay. But I digress.
Later, apparently, Piquet and another man were confronted – or got into an argument, whatever – in the motor coach area away from the race track/arena and that’s when the police became involved and the two members of Scott’s Richard Childress Racing team were charged.
Piquet, who’s been trying to re-invent himself as a stock car driver after being forced to leave Formula One in disgrace following his involvement in a fake crash that helped his then-teammate Fernando Alonso win a race, comes from a truculent family, apparently.
His father, Nelson Piquet, tried to kick Eliseo Salazar after a crash in a Grand Prix years ago. You can watch it by clicking here.
You can make up your own mind about who was right/wrong in the Nationwide race Friday night by clicking here.
But given the severity of penalties for relatively minor transgressions that have been levied by NASCAR since the first of the year, I fully expect that Nelson Piquet Jr. and Brian Scott will be suspended from competition for the rest of 2013 and maybe even longer.
Anything less would be an indication that NASCAR is coming to its senses - which would be a good thing.
ELSEWHERE: The Indy cars will be in action in Brazil next weekend. Oakville's James Hinchcliffe will be out to turn his season around after having less-than-satisfactory outings the last two races. He started the season on a high note, winning the race in St. Petersburg. It's been all downhill ever since. . . . Cruz Pedregon (he and his brother Tony are summertime visitors to Toronto Motorsports Park near Cayuga) became the first two-time 2013 winner in Funny Car Sunday when he won the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway outside Houston. Other class winners: Bob Vandergriff Jr. in Top Fuel and Jason Line in Pro Stock. . . . Local short-track racing is getting under way for 2013. Merrittville Speedway near Thorold opened on Saturday night and Lucas Oil Weekly Racing Series action saw Steve Poirer win the Patriot Sprint Tour's race, Chad Brachmann win the Bobcat of Hamilton 358 Modified main and B.J. Willard win the Rick's Delivery Sportsman race.