By Bob Pockrass
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Kyle Busch is on probation for the next five weeks as is Kevin Harvick.
So who will be the first to put their NASCAR probation to the test, Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch?
It’s got to be tempting for both drivers to race each other rough and dirty after last weekend’s antics at Darlington Raceway.
NASCAR placed them both on probation through June 15. But NASCAR officials specifically stated that the penalties – which included $25,000 fines – were for the their actions after the race on pit road, where Harvick got out of his car and attempted to punch Busch, who then drove into Harvick’s unmanned car and spun it into the pit wall.
So, if the penalties were for what took place on pit road, does that mean that anything on the track is fair game? Even though the probation covers all series, would NASCAR dare take Cup points away if they retaliate in the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series?
Would retaliation in a non-points event such as the Sprint All-Star Race mean less of a penalty?
All of those questions are racing through the minds of fans, and more than likely through the minds of officials at Richard Childress Racing (Harvick’s team) and Joe Gibbs Racing (Busch).
If Harvick and Busch retaliate against each other over the next five weeks, the only thing certain is that they’ll be playing with fire and forcing NASCAR’s hand to make a decision they might not like.
Both drivers actually have some room to spare if they get suspended or hit with a points penalty. They each have two wins and are in the top five in points. So even a points penalty or a one-race suspension wouldn’t knock them out of the top 20 and they still would be in good position to get a wild card into the Chase based on their wins. They more than likely wouldn’t even fall out of the top 10 in the standings.
So far, Busch and Harvick have only gotten a slap on the wrist and were told not to do anything dangerous on pit road for a month. That shouldn’t be too hard for them to follow.
But on the track is another story. Both drivers are incredibly aggressive and Harvick is particularly old school when it comes to making another driver’s life miserable on the track and in the pits if he feels he’s been wronged.
One bump by either of them could set the other off and before they remember that they’re on probation, it’s game on. NASCAR would then have to decide whether it should dock them points, even though the probation they are under is for postrace actions.
NASCAR traditionally has treated probation as a warning covering the specific actions that originally led to the penalty. And it has yet to issue a points penalty for rough driving under the current points system, so exactly how many points they would be docked is uncertain.
It also has had only one case in which a driver not eligible for points in a series (Michael Waltrip) had his team penalized for a postrace technical infraction. At the time, NASCAR officials indicated that if they saw a pattern of penalties with a driver not eligible for points in that series, it could take some sort of action against the driver.
Whether that would include a points penalty in the series they earn points in remains to be seen. Harvick knows that actions in one series can impact another – NASCAR benched him for a Cup race at Martinsville in 2002 after his actions toward NASCAR officials during a truck race the day before.
The other issue could come up during the all-star race because it’s a non-points event. The points penalty news release states that the probation covers four championship points races through June 15. NASCAR officials later clarified that to include the all-star race.
Of course, there’s no rule that a driver needs to be on probation before NASCAR can penalize him with points and suspensions. “Actions detrimental to stock-car racing” has no parameters as far as how much previous history impacts NASCAR’s penalty of a driver, who would then need to rely on the appeals process if he feels the penalty is out of line.
And what is abundantly clear is that the appeal process is not one a driver should rely on.
So Busch and Harvick have been warned. They have played with fire and haven’t been burned.
They can play with fire again, but they must know that they are in danger of getting burned. They were warned when they were placed on probation.