Sportsmanship at a premium in NASCAR

While legendary rivalries are part of what drives the NASCAR marketing machine, there comes a point when a driver steps over the line and becomes not an angered competitor but a felon. Shoving matches between Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick make...

While legendary rivalries are part of what drives the NASCAR marketing machine, there comes a point when a driver steps over the line and becomes not an angered competitor but a felon. Shoving matches between Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick make good TV, as do racers bumping each other, sending them gently sideways as the other motors by with a well- placed finger out the window.

It's part of NASCAR, and while it makes the drivers look like escapees from Junior High School, the fans seem to eat it up.

Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch's long-running feud finally came to a boiling point after the Michigan race this weekend. The bad blood began last March at Bristol, when Busch drop kicked Spencer out of his way and went on to earn his first series victory. Busch was not apologetic and alleged that it was retribution for an incident at Phoenix in 2001.

Spencer was not amused. He waited until Indianapolis to exact his revenge, booting Busch out of his way. After a good tongue-lashing from NASCAR brass, the pair appeared to have simmered to a low boil this season. Well, until this weekend.

Busch was leading the race, when he ran out of gas at lap 198 of 200. He attempted to steer the No.97 Ford into the garage area, but it gasped its last drop of fuel and apparently died in front of Spencer's hauler. Spencer, who was driving to the rear of Busch, smacked into the back of the 97, and then exited his car and approached Busch, who as still seated in his vehicle.

From witness reports, Spencer punched Busch several times through the window of the 97. Busch fought to exit his car, as his crewmembers rallied to his aid. Colorful words were exchanged before Busch ultimately made his way to the NASCAR trailer.

Both parties were called in to meet with NASCAR officials. Reported present at the meeting were NASCAR President Mike Helton, Series Director John Darby, Spencer, Busch, their crew chiefs Jimmy Fennig and Tommy Baldwin, and No. 97 owner Jack Roush.

Busch's car owner, Jack Roush spoke briefly after the melee, "Jimmy, apparently, according to witnesses -- I did not witness it -- ran into the back of Kurt's car. That was after some contact and some exchange, with apparently Jimmy being the aggressor as they went from racetrack to the garage. Kurt says that his car ran out of gas; it stopped running."

"Jimmy then ran into him, and came up and punched him through the window. There were words exchanged. I don't know what was said. We're going to let the authorities handle it, the local sheriff's office. They're taking statements from the drivers, since it was not on the race track, it wasn't during the event."

Busch was the first to exit the meeting, and did not appear bloodied, as some reports had indicated. His only comment on the brawl was a simple, "Ask Jimmy Spencer". Spencer also left without explaining what had incensed him to the point of violence during the event.

The whole situation was befuddling, as Busch and Spencer did not wreck. The most contact the pair had was slight door-to-door rubbing on the straightaway, which did not appear to affect either of their cars or momentum. There may have been something going on that some people did not see, as Robby Gordon driver of the No. 31 RCR Chevy offered to pay Spencer's fine and stated, "I know he tried to put Jimmy in the fence on the straightaway, he had it coming for a while."

Is this really how we want the elite drivers of auto racing behaving? Let alone grown men? I mean really, isn't Jimmy Spencer embarrassed today, acting like an overgrown teenager on a testosterone high? Shouldn't Robby Gordon mind his own business and worry about his own problems?

It's not like Gordon is the poster boy for sportsmanship in this sport, having had incidents off-track with Tony Stewart and on-track with his own teammate Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, and countless others that I am sure I am not remembering.

With NASCAR moving into the next phase of their master plan to grow this sport into urban markets like New York, what they don't need is for their image to be what a majority of people in metropolitan cities think: it's bunch of rednecks driving around in circles beating the crap out of each other.

It's old. It's antiquated. And it's downright boring. Sure, there are fights in every kind of sport from baseball to hockey - but there is a difference between the Yankees and Mets getting into a brawl on the baseball diamond and a stout guy punching a skinny kid in the face while he sits defenseless strapped into his car: that's assault and battery.

Reports fluctuated as to the severity of Busch's injuries, apparently his nose was not broken, but he was going to his personal physician Monday for confirmation; he will supposedly have two big shiners to remind him and his lawyers of the attack.

It's not like Busch sent Spencer into the wall at Daytona as they screamed down the superstretch at 180 mph. He bumped him, rubbed him - it was less than a big deal. It was not a deal at all.

Spencer should take a lesson from Jeff Gordon, it certainly would have been understandable if Gordon wanted to give Kevin Harvick a good ass-kicking after Watkins Glen, I am sure he dreamt of it - lived it, breathed it, wanted to knock Harvick's happy head in. The difference, he didn't. Why? Jeff Gordon gets TV, he gets marketing, he would never risk his reputation for he momentary glee of punching another driver in the face as he sat strapped in his car. He's not that big of a girl.

It is expected this morning that NASCAR will make public what penalties Spencer and his team will face. One thing is certain, NASCAR cannot condone this sort of adolescent behavior; they have already let it slide too long. The punishment needs to be swift and severe.

If Spencer can't learn to play with others, then maybe he shouldn't play at all.

More details: Punch earns Spencer free week off
Spencer response to penalty

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmy Spencer , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Jack Roush , Mike Helton , Tommy Baldwin