Isn't It About Time That NASCAR Cracks Down on Fighting in the Sport?
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Friday night's alleged post-race assault by two members of the Richard Childress Racing organization upon Nationwide Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr. and a still unidentified other person at Richmond International Raceway is very troubling.
According to police and media reports (per USA Today), Michael A. Scearce, 50, and Thomas F. Costello, both members of Brian Scott's Nationwide team, were arrested by Henrico County, Va., police and charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident directly outside the owners/drivers motorcoach lot at RIR.
The incident allegedly stemmed and carried over from a pair of on-track confrontations between Scott and Piquet, followed by a subsequent pit road dust-up where shoving occurred and then Piquet allegedly kicked Scott below the belt in a reported attempt at self-defense (per Sporting News).
While I completely understand Piquet attempting to defend himself, there is absolutely no excuse for what happened about an hour later outside the motorcoach lot.
NASCAR has said very little about the incident, other than a statement by a spokesperson on Saturday that was very brief (via Sporting News): “We don’t comment on ongoing police investigations."
But this is more than just a police investigation. At least three of the four involved in the incident worked in the sport either as a team member or a driver. And, the incident occurred on the RIR grounds, which is owned by NASCAR's sister company, International Speedway Corp.
Granted, NASCAR must let the police investigation, the arrest process and the subsequent court appearances play out first. But if the two RCR crew members are found guilty of assault, that is the time NASCAR must act.
The sport can ill-afford any of its members—team members, organization employees, drivers, etc.—to become involved in physical attacks. It not only puts RCR in a bad light, but also NASCAR as a whole.
NASCAR is about car racing. It's not about the World Boxing Association, World Wrestling Entertainment, Ultimate Fighting Championship or even the National Hockey League, where fighting is part of the game.
Even with its history of well-publicized fights over the years, NASCAR has grown too large to tolerate any type of physical altercation. This isn't the 1979 Daytona 500 when Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough got into it.
Roughly 24 hours after Friday's incident, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch almost went at it in the garage area after an on-track incident between the two, but both were restrained and cooler heads prevailed. Sure, it made for great TV, but what does fighting have to do with racing?
And if my math is correct, this is at least the third time Stewart has gone after another driver in the first nine races this season, obviously an indication of the frustrating season he's had thus far.
Sure, a lot of fans think fighting in the sport is natural—a long-standing tradition of fists (and feet at times) finishing incidents NASCAR can't handle.
Look at last fall's race at Phoenix. When Jeff Gordon admittedly and intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, it took track security and sheriff's police nearly 10 minutes to separate battling members of both teams.
The fracas made international news and was a big part of most nightly TV sportscasts that evening. People still talk about it to this day—and that's pretty much what many of them remember most about the race. But how many remember who won? (Kevin Harvick)
Let's put things another way. Via Sporting News, one of the victims (reportedly not Piquet) in Friday's incident reportedly suffered a shoulder injury in the altercation outside the motorcoach lot.
What happens if that individual had been more seriously injured? What happens if they had been struck by more than fists or feet, but perhaps by a weapon of some type?
In the heat of the battle, human nature is such that common sense oftentimes goes out the window and nothing else matters but inflicting as much pain possible on another individual for a perceived wrong.
That's why we have criminal charges like aggravated battery on up to involuntary manslaughter. Maybe offenders didn't mean to hurt their victim so badly, but the fact remains that they ultimately did.
You can't just tell a victim's grieving family, "Oops, my bad. Sorry, I didn't mean to do that." It doesn't work that way.
Typically in NASCAR, when one driver, team member or entire team tries to attack its counterpart(s), it's typically to send a message that they're ticked off and are willing to resort to physical violence to "settle" things, when violence has never solved or settled anything. It just leads to someone getting hurt.
When the two RCR crew members have their day in court, if they're found innocent, so be it. But if they are indeed found guilty, and once they are punished by the court for their act, I would hope NASCAR will then step in to mete out its own form of justice.
Maybe a one-year suspension from the sport—as in no job with RCR—as well as a $100,000 fine and three-year probation when they return. I mean, if we can punish a team like Joe Gibbs Racing so much more severely for what was a significantly smaller and non-violent episode like the post-race engine inspection after Kansas last week, surely penalties for fighting should be equally—if not more—stiff.
NASCAR has a lot riding on the new Gen 6 car. It's looked upon as an integral part of bringing the sport back from the last five seasons or so, where attendance and TV ratings have dropped precipitously and are now just starting to climb back up slowly.
The last thing it needs is bad publicity brought about by renegade team members looking to settle a score—be it a driver, team owner, crew chief, etc.
If there's to be any resolution of the conflict between Scott and Piquet, it's up to NASCAR, not a couple of goons who thought they'd settle things the old-fashioned way, the way it used to be in the sport.
But I have news for them: Fighting back in the day never really solved anything, and it still doesn't today—other than to make the offenders look like mindless thugs rather than defending the honor of a teammate or the like.
The old days of settling scores with fighting in NASCAR are long since gone. No other sport—well, other than maybe the NHL—condones fighting between its participants. If brawls break out in the NFL, NBA or MLB, the participants are typically punished, oftentimes severely.
Why should NASCAR be any different in handling things the same way? For even with all of the sport's lore and legendary stories of fighting to settle scores back in the day, in the long run, what does the sport gain in terms of credibility or respect today when racing is replaced by nothing short of sheer thuggery?
P.T. Barnum once said there was no such thing as bad publicity. When it comes to fighting in NASCAR, I beg to differ—bad publicity is the last thing the sport needs as it tries to regain much of the momentum it has lost in the last five years.
If the sport looks like it's out of control and condones resolution through violence, it's not only hurting the victims, it's hurting the sport's comeback as well.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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