Denny Hamlin was yanked to the ground from behind by a crew member of an opposing team. NASCAR viewed it as aggressive. Todd Gordon, crew chief of the offending team, said it wound up being more forceful than intended.
A week before Sunday’s Martinsville melee, Tyler Reddick was put in a chokehold by an opposing team member. There were no colorful descriptions or statements made afterward about it being unacceptable.
Only one person was punished after these two incidents. Dave Nichols Jr., the No. 22 tire technician, will serve a one-race suspension this weekend during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visit to Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR officials got this both right and wrong.
Any team member who puts his or her hands on an opposing driver should be penalized. Drivers should handle things among themselves. Either deal with whatever the opposing driver has to say and want to do to you, or stop creating messes for yourself if you can’t handle the consequences. Crew members should stay back, and if anything, only remove their driver from the situation if it escalates. Play protector, not the aggressor.
As I stated in my column last week, shame on NASCAR if they didn’t do anything about the Stewart-Haas Racing team member who went at Reddick’s neck. I took that further later in the week during a media roundtable discussion on the topic, and as I got more and more worked up, eventually summed up my feelings by saying NASCAR’s inaction had opened a can of worms.
Which brings us back to Martinsville. Hamlin was indeed touched by an opposing competitor, and said competitor was punished and deserved to be. That’s the part that NASCAR got right.
That’s the part NASCAR got wrong, too. After all, the sanctioning body set its own precedent a week prior by not seeing anything wrong with its reigning Xfinity Series champion being choked from behind. So how can you now penalize a guy who tosses aside a Cup driver?
“I think if you go back to Kansas, we spent a lot of time reviewing that video and in our mind, always a judgment call but different incident,” said Steve O’Donnell on Monday morning. “We didn’t see anybody really trying to escalate the situation.”
Such incidents should not be a judgment call of what the offender’s intent was. Physical contact is contact. In its penalty report for suspending Nichols, NASCAR cited “Member-to-Member confrontation with physical violence.” That reads clearly, and both the Kansas incident and the Martinsville incident fit that description.
O’Donnell and anyone else who wears the multicolored bar logo is in an unenviable position. No matter the situation or circumstances, they will always be dammed if they do or dammed it they don’t. This just seems like common sense, however. Don’t touch anyone from another team – period.
By doing nothing one week (Kansas) and viewing things differently the next (Martinsville) NASCAR remains consistently inconsistent. So, good on you NASCAR for making the right decision. But also, you should have done better.