June 8, 2007
LONG POND, Pa. (cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Kurt Busch paid a hefty price for his fit in the pit.
The former Nextel Cup champion was docked 100 driver points Friday, fined $100,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year for reckless driving and endangering one of Tony Stewart's crew members on pit road.
"It's a bit surprising, but safety on pit road can't be compromised," Busch said at Pocono Raceway. "I understand that. To me, it's a matter of making sure everyone is safe on pit road."
Busch should consider himself lucky NASCAR didn't park him for Sunday's Pocono 500. Officials considered that idea after parking him near the end of Monday's 400-mile race at Dover International Speedway.
"We felt like we got everybody's attention," Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, said. "We felt like the 100-point penalty, the $100,000 was substantial."
With the penalty, Busch fell from 11th to 17th in the Chase standings, moving Martin Truex Jr., who was eight points out of 12th place, into the Chase standings. The top 12 drivers are in the final 10 races for the title.
Car owner Roger Penske also was penalized 100 owner points.
On Monday, Busch clipped Stewart as he went to make a pass in lap 271, with both drivers running in the top 10. Busch nosed into the wall, and Stewart was sent hard into the SAFER barrier on the outside retaining wall.
While Stewart's team checked the damage to the No. 20 Chevrolet in the pit stall, Busch pulled his No. 2 Dodge next to Stewart's car, forcing jackman Jason Lee to jump back and onto the hood.
NASCAR parked Busch, and he finished 42nd.
"Safety is one of our big issues," Pemberton said. "Accidents do happen, and we don't want to put ourselves in a position to allow an accident to happen like that."
Busch said he had a point for pulling up to the side of Stewart's car.
"I wanted him to look me in the whites of my eyes and realize how upset I was," he said. "You can do things. You can talk about things. But if right there in the heat of the moment you pull up next to somebody and you let them know, and he can look at you in the whites of your eyes and see how upset you are, it's pretty serious."
NASCAR's punishment showed just how serious it was. The penalty matched the ones handed down earlier this season to Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as one of the most severe in NASCAR history.
"We've fairly happy with what we've done," Pemberton said.
Stewart said he hoped to talk to Busch on Friday night.
"We'll get it settled," said Stewart, who called Busch a "bad apple" after the Dover race. "That's the thing with guys in this series. Guys in this series always find ways to work this out and get it over with to where you can get back to having fun racing on Sunday."
Busch, too, was looking forward to talking.
"The incident between Tony and I still needs to be discussed," Busch said. "The guy thought I didn't race him with enough room and I felt like he didn't race me with enough room and it hurt us both in points, so that's the tough part."
This isn't the first time this season the two former Nextel Cup champs have tangled on the track. The duo dominated the Daytona 500 and were on a pace for a frantic finish until they wrecked each other with 48 laps to go. When Stewart's car wriggled just a bit, Busch ran into his bumper, and both cars careened into the outside wall.
"We do need to discuss how we can move forward out the race track together," Busch said.
And he was quick to do all he could to make sure he didn't miss Sunday's race.
Busch reached out to Lee and Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs, telling Lee it was never his intention to put him in danger and that his beef was strictly with Stewart.
"I had my car under control when I stopped next to Tony's car next to pit road," he said.
Busch's notorious hot temper has cost him before. He's thrown tantrums, admitted spinning another driver to help his position and been charged off the track with reckless driving.
All this has tarnished the reputation of the 2004 champ, and he got little support in the garage Friday.
"I'm not trying to go after Kurt and say that there needs to be a suspension, but that's a major thing, especially if you're endangering people on pit road," Jimmie Johnson said. "His frustration just took hold of him and put him in a position to do that. You can't mess around with guys on pit road. You can't hurt innocent people."
Added Busch's brother, Kyle: "NASCAR made its decision. It is what it is."
The Associated Press News Service