Noah Gragson might have proven a point in not being afraid to confront Ross Chastain last weekend in Kansas, and had it not been for NASCAR security, may have accomplished more.
The rookie was heated from feeling he had been run into the outside wall by Chastain during the race and confronted him on pit road afterward. Gragson was only able to grab Chastain’s firesuit before the Trackhouse Racing driver threw a punch and NASCAR security stepped in, leaving him no chance to even the score.
“I feel like security stepped in about 10 seconds too quick,” Kyle Busch said Saturday at Darlington Raceway. “You let one guy get a (heck) of a hit, and then you block the other guy from getting a hit back. You’ve got to at least let the guy try and then maybe get in.
“I would seriously urge NASCAR to go with some hockey rules. Once you get to the ground, we’re going to break it up. Or when one of you guys looks gassed, we’re going to break it up. Let them get a good 30 seconds. It’s going to be way better for TV and ratings are going to go off the charts.”
Busch did joke that perhaps Gragson wasn’t the right guy to confront Chastain but appreciated that he showed his frustration. As Gragson mentioned — others are frustrated with Chastain, too, but don’t do anything about it but talk into a microphone.
With the altercation still a hot topic, the idea of hockey rules in NASCAR was brought up to numerous Cup Series drivers Saturday, as well as the role of NASCAR security.
“I don’t have an answer for you on that,” Joey Logano said when asked if NASCAR security should get involved. “I’m not a huge fan of tearing up race cars because that’s dangerous, but it’s also probably not safe to have fights on pit road either if they’re not equally matched. A big guy versus a little guy, you might want to go run into a wall. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer.
“You look at the NHL and sometimes they let them fight and sometimes they don’t. I don’t know. Usually, it never escalates into too much. Typically, it’s just a shoving match or people yelling at each other, but I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.”
No crew members from Trackhouse or Legacy Motor Club were involved in the Kansas incident, but two NASCAR security members were already near Chastain’s car when Gragson came over.
NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week that officials understand the emotion of the sport. They would have preferred things not to escalate to the level they did, though.
“We tell our officials – these are the people that are officiating the race – to not get involved in that,” Sawyer said of NASCAR protocol. “I think if you look at that particular situation, the officials, the other crew members — both from the No. 42 and the No. 1 — I thought they handled it extremely well. They didn’t get involved, they allowed the drivers to show their displeasure, which is what we would prefer to see.
“Our security people did get involved, and they will get involved. They’ll let them have their space to be able to talk, but once it rises to a level like it did on Sunday, they’re going to get involved and break it up. They all handled it really well.”
Brad Keselowski deferred to whatever NASCAR officials want to when it comes to confrontation. The former Cup Series champion said it’s whatever NASCAR feels is right.
“Bad things can happen in those scenarios,” Keselowski said. “Good things can happen, I guess, sometimes. The sport is always the winner; the individuals are always the losers, so fights are great when they’re not you.”
Kyle Larson acknowledged NASCAR security is there to defuse the situation but probably didn’t know Chastain was going to throw a punch. It was hard for the Hendrick driver to offer much because he doesn’t see any scenario where he’s going to be in that situation. Larson didn’t engage with an angry Bubba Wallace after Wallace took him out late last season in Las Vegas and then confronted him on the frontstretch.
Wallace, on the other hand, said drivers should be able to show their displeasure. He didn’t feel Gragson got to do that and subsequently lost the fight.
“Treat it like hockey, I guess,” said Wallace. “Let them go until they fall.”
NASCAR did not fine or penalize either driver after Kansas.
“I’ve been on both sides of this and probably done it right or wrong,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s hard to know what is right. It’s like when we had the Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace incident – that’s not really a fair fight. Or you don’t know if Kyle is hurt in that particular incident with all the concussions and things that are happening. So, as I get older, I think they need to not let it happen. If they want to fight, they can go fight somewhere else.
“I find myself torn on it. I think in today’s day and age, it almost seems a little cheap.”
Someone who doesn’t want to see drivers be left to settle things like hockey players is Chastain.
“I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what that would be,” he said on where the line is to start fighting. “It’s more just in the moment, living and reacting, but knowing this is big-time auto racing…not hockey. I stand by last week (and) what happened. I’m not saying that every time, in a little bit different situation, I’m going to react like that. I want to talk to guys and have conversations, but last week was too far.”