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Where to Go From Here with Ambrose/Mears

Where to Go From Here with Ambrose/Mears

by April 28, 2014 1 comment

Photo Credit: NASCAR Media Day

In case you missed it on social media or on your local news’ sports roundup – a bout of fisticuffs was fought after the conclusion of Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400.

After contact was made between the two early on in the race, Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears got into a heated verbal exchange near the garage area after climbing out of their race cars. The argument quickly got physical as Mears would grab onto Ambrose and forcibly move him several feet from where he stood earlier. What occurred next is what turned this into a top sports story – after Mears pushed Ambrose several feet, the Tasmanian loaded up a right hand and clocked Mears on the left side of his head with a hook. The two drivers were immediately separated by various crew members, one of them taking a swing at Ambrose in the process.

This incident differed from the various physical confrontations we’ve seen at the track in the past. Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton got into a shoving match after an accident between the two at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2010 – although that skirmish contained more flailing arms rather than straight-up punches. The same type of confrontation occurred between Joey Logano and Tony Stewart last year in Fontana.

In recent years, rare is it though where we have an incident that involves a punch thrown (and connecting) with a driver with their helmet off outside of the car. Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch were involved in a now infamous feud that spanned from 2001-to-2003 that culminated in Spencer punching Busch as he sat in his race car – actual footage of the punch never being made available. Spencer would be parked by NASCAR for one race after the incident, Busch would be placed on probation for the rest of the 2003 season.

Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya were reportedly involved in a physical confrontation inside of the NASCAR hauler in 2011 when Newman supposedly punched Montoya as the two were sat down by officials to discuss an on-track incident from the week before. No punishment towards either driver was ever officially announced by NASCAR, however, supposedly a $50,000 ‘secret’ fine was levied towards Newman.

After this week’s incident between Ambrose and Mears, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, issued a statement that NASCAR would indeed be taking a look at the incident. Pemberton also issued his thoughts on his perceived severity of the altercation.

“We’re looking at the video,” Pemberton said after the conclusion of Saturday’s race. “It doesn’t seem to be much. We’ll take a look Monday and Tuesday. We don’t think it was anything too severe. We’ll get all the footage we can and look at it and see what happens from there.”

Nothing too severe? I’d like to take a look at Mr. Pemberton’s personal dictionary to get an idea of what his meaning of ‘severe’ is.

After handing out hefty punishments for altercations that never even made it onto the airwaves, NASCAR needs to follow up on this most recent incident by issuing out some sort of punishment. Letting this incident slide by taking a ‘boys, have at it’ attitude towards those involved will only bring negatives to the sport in the long run. By not doing anything, NASCAR is encouraging drivers in a way by suggesting that drivers can get physically violent with one another without fear of response by the sanctioning body.

NASCAR should be trying to curtail incidents like this rather than encourage them. The focus of the sport should be on the on-track product, not the drama going on in the garage area. Yes, emotions run high throughout these events and disagreements are sure to be had between drivers after the waving of the checkered flag, however, NASCAR needs to make it known that physical violence has no place in this sport.

It’s rather interesting when you reflect on the fact that NASCAR’s explosion of popularity began with the 1979 Daytona 500 – a race that made headlines for the now infamous fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers. While a brawl was instrumental in establishing the sport as a national entity 35 years ago, a brawl that goes unpunished in 2014 could rattle the sport’s reputation. For the record, both Yarborough and the Allison brothers would receive fines for their fight.

What do I expect to come out of this incident? Probations for both drivers, most likely. I do not expect either Ambrose or Mears to be parked for Talladega although doing so would issue a stern warning to all competitors that physical violence is not to be tolerated by NASCAR. Would I personally be against that? In all honesty, I wouldn’t be.

The headlines dominating the news world were more angled towards the Ambrose-Mears fight rather than the extraordinary battle for the race win that Joey Logano ultimately prevailed in – something that I view as a public relations nightmare for the sport. In my opinion, the five-way battle for the win in the closing stages of the Toyota Owners 400 was one of the most exciting battles I have ever witnessed as a spectator of the sport. To have that battle be overshadowed by a fight between two drivers who didn’t even finish in the top-15 of the race is nothing but an embarrassment for the sport.

If NASCAR wants to remain relevant as a national sport they need to act now rather than not act at all. If officials do nothing, various commentators’ descriptions of the sport as ‘the WWE on wheels’ could very well come true in the future. Is that really what NASCAR wants?

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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  1. Roger miller
    #1 Roger miller 29 April, 2014, 17:18

    This fighting is okay talk going around blows my mind, almost all the radio shows on NASCAR radio think it no big deal. What about those 7,8 and nine year olds sitting in front of the tv and realizing that is how you solve differences. This sport is held up above the other sports as being the most family friendly of the major sports. What is it gonna take, a unseen sucker punch that sends someone to the ground and smashes their head on the ground? So do we want the biggest or strongest driver to basically bully any driver smaller than him. Would we condone fans fighting in the hotdog lines or the stands? Anyone remember Kermit Washington? Bystanders are going to be in harms way as well. Sure the highlights are great but the message is way off, when is it okay to assault anyone? As Chocolate Meyers said yesterday, “..this isn’t your little Saturday night local short track, this is the very highest level of stock car racing, we can’t have that…..”. It has taken a long time for the sport to shake a certain image, it only takes an incident to lose all that has been done to shake that old image. Hockey fights are looked at as a big joke and has kept hockey from appealing to the masses.

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