Tony Stewart will not face any punishment from NASCAR for his his wild altercation with, and ensuing comments about, fellow driver Joey Logano after last weekend's Auto Club 400.
NASCAR's senior director of communications Kerry Tharp tweeted the news:
This is not surprising. NASCAR has grown increasingly lenient with this type of driver behavior over the years. In fact, Stewart is a great example.
Was this the right move by NASCAR?
Last year, Stewart infamously chucked his helmet at Matt Kenseth after Kenseth bumped him at the 500-lap Irwin Tools Night Race. He did not receive any penalty from NASCAR for that incident either.
The reason for the increased leniency is fairly transparent: NASCAR likes the attention and hype this extracurricular drama brings.
After all, NASCAR did not hesitate to fine Denny Hamlin for his negative comments about the flaws of the Gen-6 cars, but a little driver-to-driver drama is another story.
Following the Auto Club 400, Kyle Busch's thrilling victory with a final-lap pass largely took a back seat to what went down between Stewart and Logano.
On the race's final restart, Logano went down to the apron to block Stewart. Smoke took serious exception to the move, and after the race, he hunted down Logano:
The chaotic melee was over almost as quickly as it began. However, Smoke's feelings did not dissipate. Later in the day, he gave this colorful interview:
The fight between the two drivers quickly became a talking point in the media and the public, and it put a greater spotlight on the sport. Undoubtedly, this has all helped generate a little more interest in the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
However, this can be a slippery slope for NASCAR. This is almost WWE-style theatrics, and while the added drama adds to the intensity surrounding the races, what is largely getting lost in the shuffle is that the Auto Club 400 was an exciting race, and a showcase for the competitive possibilities of the new Gen-6 cars.
In the end, NASCAR has to be careful that the theatrics do not overshadow the actual product of racing.