DARLINGTON, S.C. — NASCAR drivers might not be the biggest athletes around, but many talked about a willingness to scrap with their fists a week after the Ross Chastain-Noah Gragson fracas.
They don’t mind throwing punches. At least that’s what many said.
It might depend on age and experience, too, and whether they want to throw haymakers.
“I’m a 47-year-old dad that thinks in this day and age, that stuff looks cheap. … We’re not playing hockey,” Cup veteran Kevin Harvick said.
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The Chastain-Gragson fight following the Kansas race was unique in that a driver got in a solid shot to the face as Chastain reacted to Gragson grabbing his firesuit and cursing at him. Chastain responded with a solid right hook.
Gragson then was cocked and ready to throw a retaliatory punch when NASCAR security broke them apart.
“Let us two work it out and finish it off,” Gragson said afterward.
Whether drivers agreed with Gragson confronting Chastain at his car after the race, there seemed to be a feeling Gragson should have at least gotten a chance to retaliate. NASCAR indicated it won’t change its policy to have its security get involved to keep drivers from getting hurt even if drivers are saying they’re willing to take that risk.
Punches thrown between Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain
Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain met up after the NASCAR AdventHealth 400, and tempers flared in a heated scuffle.
“I feel like security stepped in about 10 seconds too quick,” Kyle Busch said. “You let one guy get a hell of a hit, and then you block the other guy from getting a hit back. At least let the guy try and then maybe get one in. I would seriously urge NASCAR to go with some hockey rules, you know?
“Once you get to the ground, we’re going to break it up; or when one of you guys look gassed, we’re going to break it up. Let them get a good 30 seconds in. It’s going to be way better for TV and ratings are going to go off the charts.”
Kyle Busch suggests rules for driver fights
Kyle Busch quips that Noah Gragson maybe wasn’t the guy who should have had to send a message to Ross Chastain. And he feels drivers should get 30 seconds to throw punches.
Some drivers aren’t fighters. The 5-foot-6 Kyle Larson quipped, “I’m not a fighter” — and there’s evidence of that when last year Bubba Wallace shoved him several times, and Larson did not retaliate. Wallace and Larson had an on-track skirmish that ended with Wallace turning Larson into the wall.
Wallace was suspended for a race for the on-track action, not the physical shoving.
“Pound for pound, I’d probably lose the fight,” Larson said about any fight. “I want security to break them up before they get to my car. Just kidding.
“I don’t foresee myself ever being in a situation like that. I think everybody probably understands it’s not going to be an equal fight with me. So, they’ll end up looking bad because I’m a little fella.”
Wallace said while he has not had any issues with Chastain, he felt Gragson should have been allowed to get that retaliatory punch.
“Noah was ready to throw a punch and got blocked. I guess he lost that fight,” Wallace said. “I feel like you should be able to display your displeasure. Treat it like hockey, I guess — let it go until they fall.
“It’s passion, and it’s showing your frustration. It’s all right. People need to be put in their place sometimes.”
Bubba Wallace on what makes drivers want to fight
Bubba Wallace discusses whether officials should break up fights and provides insight on what made Noah Gragson mad on-track at Kansas and why it might be a product of racing the Next Gen car.
With the win-and-in playoff system and then a playoff system of three-race elimination rounds, it only enhances the intensity and pressure on the drivers to make gutsy moves — moves that sometimes go awry and cause frustration from others.
“In the moment, emotions run high, and you’ll do anything,” William Byron said. “This sport is so competitive, and you’re desperate to win races at all times. … You hate losing, and it brings out emotions in everybody.”
Byron said he could hold his own in a fight.
“I played football for five years,” he said. “I think people would be surprised when we get after it.”
Tyler Reddick indicated a driver might be more willing to sucker punch another driver if he knows NASCAR is ready to step in once a punch is thrown.
“It seems to me that whoever starts the fight wins the fight because they stop the fight after that,” driver Daniel Suarez said. “People get involved — pit crew, officials, security.
“I guess if you’re going to fight, you have to start it.”
There also is a concern about the potential of drivers following a crash possibly being injured.
“You wind up with somebody punched in the face and knocked on the ground and bang their head on the ground and then what?” Harvick said. “It’s not as cool anymore.
“I go to the Bubba Wallace-Kyle Larson thing. It’s a 5-foot tall guy [in Larson] going against a much bigger guy. And he’s just gone head-on into the fence. Is he hurt? What if the guy has a concussion, and you’re banging on his head?”
Harvick advocated for things to be settled on the racetrack and not with fists, while Denny Hamlin indicated he feels that a fight could be better than retaliation on the racetrack.
“I understand the whole hurt thing, but if you are worried about getting hurt, you probably shouldn’t do something on the racetrack,” Hamlin said.
“That’s what is self-policing about the sport. Back in the day you either get junked [on the track] for a few weeks, or you did have your eye dotted. If you take that away, we’re more likely to handle it on the racetrack. I’m not sure what you deem worse.”
“You gotta let them work it out”
Denny Hamlin says NASCAR officials need to let the drivers try to work things out in regard to the Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson situation.
While Harvick doesn’t want to be fighting like he might have been early in his career, he does remember the advice he got regarding scuffles.
“Was it fair to Noah that he got punched in the face, and then they broke it up?” Harvick said. “Probably not.
“But he also went down there. I’ve always been told that, ‘Swing first, swing hard.'”
Harvick co-owns the CARS Racing Tour and said that if a driver throws punches in that regional late model series, he would advocate for penalties.
“We’d throw them out,” said Harvick, who co-owns the series with former drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Justin marks. “There would most likely be a penalty in my opinion.”
For what it’s worth, Chastain said he doesn’t want to be fighting.
“This is big-time auto racing,” Chastain said. “This is not hockey. I stand by last week 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.”
Throwback Idea From Fans
The throwback ideas newsletter last week elicited a big response from fans of things they would like to see.
— No Playoffs: Sorry, that isn’t going to happen. NASCAR loves the intensity of the playoffs. Without them, the Hail Melon would never have happened. To me, that’s enough to have them.
— No Stages: Stages tend to create excitement as well as bunch up the field. It might not be the purest thing in racing, but stages encourage drivers to try to get to the front early in a race. There is the argument for no caution laps, but imho, it is nice to get a snack or a restroom break if watching from home. And it does allow time for commercials that the networks know will be under yellow.
— Bring back Rockingham: Let’s see how North Wilkesboro goes before doing Rockingham. I’m not sure the Rockingham community would rally as swiftly based on the very good-but-not-great truck events there a decade or so ago.
— Bring back spring concrete Bristol: The dirt race is a unique element. Yes, Bristol is a great racetrack without the dirt, but it also makes the summer night race an even bigger event. There are plusses and minuses to both.
Thinking Out Loud
NASCAR’s decision not to allow Alex Bowman’s substitute driver Josh Berry to be in the All-Star main event was a little bit of a surprise.
NASCAR had over the past several years allowed changes for an injured driver for exhibition events, although it has come up more for the preseason Clash than All-Star. The thought is that if the team has sold sponsorship thinking it is in the Clash or the All-Star main event, then NASCAR wouldn’t want them to have to refund it because of an injury.
But the All-Star race is for the best in the sport, so it does make sense for NASCAR to make the decision based on competition rather than business. As long as it is applied consistently going forward, it’s not a bad move.
In The News
— Alex Bowman will see a doctor Wednesday to determine when he possibly could return. He didn’t rule out the All-Star race this weekend, but team owner Rick Hendrick indicated the earliest would be the following week at Charlotte. If Bowman doesn’t compete in the All-Star race, Josh Berry will drive the car and have to race his way into the main event through the Open as NASCAR won’t give Berry automatic berth to the main event that Bowman has earned. Bowman said he fractured the T-3 vertebra and his main concern would be pit stops when they drop the jack jarring his back and causing pain.
— NASCAR ejected Tyler Reddick crew chief Billy Scott during technical inspection Friday and a small points penalty is quite possible Tuesday. The team used competition director Dave Rogers to fill in for Scott. The infraction occurred after it appeared the team had passed technical inspection and the issue possibly had to do with removal or adjusting weight in the car. Neither the team nor NASCAR would confirm that when asked.
— NASCAR sent notes to teams Saturday night detailing expected changes to the chassis on the passenger side that will be implemented starting with Charlotte in a couple of weeks. The changes include the additions of some gusset plates, which would make the connection areas of the bars stronger. The changes are being made after NASCAR’s investigation into the Ryan Preece-Kyle Larson crash at Talladega.
— Ryan Newman, who had not competed in a Cup event since the last race of the 2021 season, began a five-race stretch as driver of the Rick Ware Racing No. 51 car at Darlington. He will race again next week at North Wilkesboro and then will also do Richmond in July, and Darlington and Bristol in September.
— The 16 Cup team owners have sent a letter to NASCAR trying to push for renewed talks on making the charter system — NASCAR’s version of the franchise — permanent. Denny Hamlin, who co-owns 23XI Racing, said NASCAR is talking to all the teams individually but not with the four-member negotiating group the teams have designated to represent them. The charter deal between the teams and NASCAR currently expires after the 2024 season.
Stat of the Day
Spire Motorsports fielded entries in the truck, Xfinity and Cup races this weekend. The last time an organization fielded an entry in all three series on the same weekend was Richard Childress Racing in 2014, when it had Cup and truck entries at Pocono and Xfinity at Iowa.
They Said It
“When somebody runs over us, then I expect my guys to hold their ground.” —Team owner Rick Hendrick
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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