The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Column: NASCAR should close the case against Ambrose, Mears for Va. scrap with no penalties

  • Print

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Quick quiz: Who won the 1979 Daytona 500?

The answer, of course, is Richard Petty.

But very few people — if any — equate that race with "The King" grabbing the sixth of his seven Daytona 500 victories. That race is instead infamous for the last-lap crash between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough as they raced for the lead. The crash sparked a three-man fight after Allison's brother, Bobby, pulled up to the accident scene.

The brawl in the closing moments of the first race to be broadcast live in its entirety was a monumental moment for NASCAR, and the lasting image as the traditionally Southern sport officially announced its arrival on the national scene.

Fast forward 35 years later to Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, where tempers flared after the race. It seemed much ado about nothing when Brad Keselowski stomped down pit road to angrily wag his finger at Matt Kenseth in a scene that was just enough to keep viewers from changing the channel, but not enough to generate any real excitement.

Then things got really interesting.

An overhead camera happened to catch Casey Mears confronting Marcos Ambrose in the garage. About? Who knows. The two were racing each other for 18th place and Fox hardly had its cameras tuned to that battle.

But something happened between the two to get Mears upset, and his anger only grew as Ambrose seemed to dismiss him and turn away. So Mears grabbed the Australian, shoved him a bit and Ambrose responded with a right hook to Mears' eye. It was hard enough to draw blood and knock Mears' hat from atop his head.

NASCAR is reviewing the incident and considering whether to discipline either of the drivers in its Tuesday penalty notices.

If the sanctioning body is smart, it will close the file and move on to Talladega without taking any action against either driver.

Forget for a minute that it was a fight that put NASCAR on the national map, and that hard-scrabble, passionate drivers who aren't afraid of confrontation are the bedrock of the sport. To this day, it's those incidents that generate the most conversation. Joey Logano's late pass of Kenseth, Keselowski and Jeff Gordon to win the race didn't garner many national headlines on Sunday, but Ambrose's shot to Mears' face most certainly did.

The decision to leave Ambrose and Mears alone isn't about the attention that a fight draws to the sport.

It's about short-track racing on a Saturday night and the emotions that come from driving hard on tight tracks and in close quarters. Fans watch Bristol and Martinsville and Richmond fully expecting to be treated to bumping and banging and the post-race confrontations that come from explosive tempers.

The incidents are celebrated and find their way into promotional materials for the tracks and NASCAR itself.

Taking that into account, Mears can't be punished for confronting Ambrose after the race. Something happened on the track that infuriated him enough to seek out Ambrose.

That conversation happened to take place in the garage, NASCAR's version of the office place, and it happened in a flurry of frenetic, post-race activity. Drivers return their cars to the haulers after the race, and at Richmond, the haulers are lined up in tight quarters. Crews are working furiously to pack up the car and the equipment, fans are milling about trying to chase down their favourite driver, reporters are rushing to seek out interviews before the parties slip away in the darkness.

In that setting, Ambrose was grabbed and then shoved by a fellow driver. He reacted violently with a punch that might have startled Floyd Mayweather Jr., let alone Mears.

Should Ambrose be punished for defending himself? For reacting in a heated moment? Absolutely not. It wasn't a sucker punch, it didn't put any crew members or fans in danger, and Mears himself seemed to take it in stride.

The morning after he was punched, Mears ran in Jimmie Johnson's charity race and acknowledged Ambrose "got me pretty good with that shot" in an interview with NASCAR.com.

"Out of all the NASCAR fights or punches or when you see people swinging, usually it's a lot of fly-swatting. He actually connected so that was pretty good," Mears said. "Everybody gets mad after those races when everybody is trying so hard. It's a passionate sport, obviously. It's tough when you first get out of the car, when you don't have a good chance to cool off, it escalates pretty quick."

Indeed, the culture of short-track racing is an expectation of post-race fireworks.

Unless NASCAR wants to remove that element and expectation, it should leave Ambrose and Mears alone.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Tree remover has special connection to Grandma Elm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose heads for shade in the sunshine Friday afternoon at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg - Day 26– June 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Challenges of Life- Goose Goslings jump over railway tracks to catch up to their parents at the Canadian Pacific Railway terminalon Keewatin St in Winnipeg Thursday morning. The young goslings seem to normally hatch in the truck yard a few weeks before others in town- Standup photo- ( Day 4 of Bryksa’s 30 day goose project) - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Who are the real Bombers?

View Results

Ads by Google