- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

Stock car racing is an adrenaline and testosterone world, fumes and fury at murderous speeds for hours. It’s bumping and brawling, clashes and crashes, and fans love it for that.

Therein lies the quandary for NASCAR: To crank up the roars without letting things get too crazy.

It’s too crazy when Ricky Rudd sends Kevin Harvick’s car slamming into the wall in Richmond, and Harvick’s crew stomps on Rudd’s car “like it’s a dadgum runway,” as Rudd described the bizarre scene Saturday night.

It’s too crazy when Jimmy Spencer punches out Kurt Busch after a race, as he did a few weeks ago.

It’s too crazy when drivers of all stripes, in cars and trucks, are playing dangerous games night after night, not quite cheating but not quite racing clean.

A driver is going to get killed one day, on or off the track, if the latest epidemic of road rage doesn’t stop. Fans don’t want to see wimps cruising the speedways, but the sport doesn’t need drivers attacking each other with their cars or their fists.

“This bump-and-run thing is out of control,” Darrell Waltrip says. “NASCAR’s got to start taking action against the people that are doing the bumping, not the people who are getting bumped.

“It’s always happened, but it’s become an epidemic. It just gets worse and worse, and it finds its way into every series. Every race at Richmond — truck, Busch and Cup — was decided by somebody bumping somebody out of the way. It’s bad sportsmanship. The poor guy leading the race is a sitting duck.”

Waltrip got into plenty of scrapes in his time but he says what’s going on now is “unacceptable.”

NASCAR couldn’t agree more. Yet quick as it was to sock Harvick and five members of his Richard Childress Racing No.29 team with penalties yesterday, NASCAR did nothing to punish Rudd.

Harvick was fined $35,000 and placed on probation until Dec.31. His crew chief, Todd Berrier, was fined $10,000. Crew members Mike Scearce and Gene Pasquale were suspended from NASCAR competition for a week, placed on probation until Dec.31 and fined — $5,000 for Berrier, $2,500 for Pasquale. Two other crew members, Kirk Almquist and Ken Barber were placed on probation and fined $2,500 each.

The actions “detrimental to stock car racing” included Harvick hitting Rudd’s car on pit road, his crew damaging the car, a couple of guys throwing things at Rudd, and the whole lot of them using some darn “improper language.”

The only member of Rudd’s team to get penalized was crew chief Pat Tryson — $5,000 for cussing. Tryson apparently said something stronger than, “Gosh, guys, would you please stop jumping on our car.”

NASCAR also fined two Busch Series drivers and their crew chiefs, and Trucks Series driver Bobby Hamilton for various other post-race fights.

Childress apologized for the melee but didn’t back down from supporting Harvick.

“I called the Wood Brothers to apologize and told them that I would pay for the damage done to their race car by those crew members,” Childress said. “While I understand the emotions of our pit crew, the action they took was uncalled for.

“I want to say, however, that I understand and support Kevin Harvick’s feelings for wanting to have a few words with Ricky Rudd after the race. Kevin knows the mistakes he made and I’m sure he would do some things different if he had to do it over again, but I stand behind him because I’ve been in the same situation as a driver.”

Harvick had every right to be angry. He was running second to Ryan Newman at the time, then finished 16th after the bump and missed a shot at passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second in the points standings.

But Harvick needs anger management classes if he thinks what he and his crew did was simply have “a few words” with Rudd.

Calling Rudd’s nudge a “cheap shot,” Harvick swore after the race that “he’s going to get one back. I promise you that.”

Rudd took a verbal shot at Harvick’s “yap-yap mouth,” but insisted the bump was an accident — a claim Waltrip doesn’t buy.

“These are the world’s greatest drivers. You don’t accidentally run into somebody,” Waltrip says. “Your foot doesn’t slip off the brake. Your foot doesn’t accidentally hit the gas pedal. They have got to start taking action against the people that cause the wrecks.

“We used to bump around, push around, but we had a lot of respect for each other as well. Drivers today need to go back and look at how we used to race.”

Improper language is the least of stock car racing’s problems. Harvick and his crew deserved all those penalties and more. But in slapping only them, NASCAR missed a chance to tone down the heat all around and let drivers know that bumping cars into walls won’t be lightly tolerated.

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