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From Curtis Turner to Kyle Busch, NASCAR has dealt with them all
Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe traveled to The White House recently, as part of the recognition for winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship. As it is, it might be the last time Keselowski and Wolfe do much celebrating for a while. NASCAR found the rear end housings in both the No. 2 and No. 22 Penske Fords to be “not within the spirit of the rules” – whatever that means. Actually, what it really means is both Keselowski and Joey Logano are docked 25 points and will be without their crew chiefs (each fined $100,000), car chiefs and team manager for the next six weeks – pending their appeal. While crew chiefs bear the brunt of being put across NASCAR’s knee, drivers are not immune as well. Let’s take a look at the 10 most memorable NASCAR driver punishments.
10. Dale Earnhardt Sr. – Coca-Cola 600 1993 – Held 1 lap for rough driving
There was a time when even “The Intimidator” got a little too rowdy for NASCAR’s liking. As this clip shows, Earnhardt got a little close to Greg Sacks on the 1993 Coca-Cola 600, causing him to spin off Turn 4. Earnhardt was held one lap for rough driving, much to the chagrin of an animated Richard Childress. Check out the tint job on that No. 3 car. Just what does Lumina mean anyway? Loosely translated, it means 1993 Champion and eventual winner of the Coke 600 despite spotting the field a lap. For Earnhardt, this penalty wasn’t so much a punishment as it was a slap on wrist.
9. Kyle Busch – AAA 500 – Held 3 laps for speeding on pit road/unsportsmanlike conduct
Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team put a hurtin’ on ’em last Saturday night at Texas, but it was a different story during the 2010 Chase. Recovering from a spin in the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch was penalized a lap for speeding for what NASCAR took as him keeping from going to go a lap down. After initially refusing to come in, then going Walter Sobchak and invoking Constitutional rights, Kyle gave the official working his pit double No. 1’s — and earned himself an additional two laps in the Hole. Earmuffs …
8. Greg Biffle – 1999 Truck Series Championship – Intake manifold, 125-point fine
The Biff has been with the Cat in the Hat ever since the late Benny Parsons told Jack Roush he needed to take a look. During the 1999 Truck Series season, Biffle was in a tight points battle with Jack Sprague and Dennis Setzer, with Biffle having just won his ninth race of the season at Las Vegas – the biggest payout race of the season. He came into the race with a 125-point lead and left with a 10-point deficit to Sprague. The reason? An issue with the intake manifold – one Biffle and crew chief Randy Goss maintained was an off the shelf part they had been using all season long. The fine proved costly, as Biffle lost the championship by a scant 8 points. Biffle would rebound to win the Truck Series title in 2000, and his nine-win ’99 season remains a record in the series to this day.
7. Robby Gordon – 2007 Pennsylvania 500 – Suspended one race for disregarding a black flag
I’ve always said that NASCAR would be a better place if it had more drivers like Robby Gordon. He’s a throwback if there ever was one, leaving the comfy confines of RCR to start his own team in 2005. You’d be hard pressed to find a better driver when right turns are permitted, and such was the case when NASCAR went north of the border in 2007. Gordon was running the Busch Series NAPA 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal when he got into it with Marcos Ambrose in the final laps, nerfing Ambrose and earning a black flag in the process. Instead of heeding a black flag, Robby kept his foot in it and assumed he had one the race. It was an awkward sight, seeing two cars perform victory burnouts – Kevin Harvick the official winner, and Robby Gordon who maintained that he won after the race. The next day, NASCAR suspended Gordon, not allowing him to drive in the Cup Series race at Pocono.
6. Kyle Busch – 2011 AAA 500 – Suspended one race for rough driving
What is it with Kyle Busch in Texas? It literally is checkers or wreckers with Kyle in the Lone Star State, and this incident with Ron Hornaday in 2011 is a perfect example. Truck regular Hornaday was in the midst of a title fight while Busch was running a truck for the team he owns with M&M’s sponsorship on the tailgate. On lap 15, Hornaday gets loose going around a lap truck, and forces Busch up into the wall. The caution comes out and Busch retaliates, driving Hornaday head-on into the wall, ending his night and title hopes. NASCAR parked Busch for the Cup race two days later in the middle of the Chase, was fined by his own team and received a final warning from sponsor M&M’s. Irony of ironies, Hornaday lost it and did the exact same thing this weekend at Rockingham to rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. who was driving the No. 54 Toyota that is normally Busch’s for Nationwide duty – but was a Joe Gibbs Racing truck. Oops.
5. Kurt Busch – 2012 Pocono 400 – Suspended one race for disrespecting media while on probation
What would a top 10 list of anything be without the best sound bite in NASCAR history? Kurt Busch had an up and down 2012 season. He was out at Penske and signed on with Phoenix Racing before the season started. They had decent equipment at Daytona, but wiped out four cars in the process. He had a top 10 going in the Southern 500 only to be felled by tire going down late — then engaged in a shouting match with Ryan Newman’s pit crew. That incident landed him on probation, which is when this incident with Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News occurred following a Nationwide race at Dover. Kurt was seated for the next race at Pocono. I know Kurt hates to dwell on the past, but this is top 10 material.
4. Carl Long – 2009 Winston Open – $200,000 fine/Banned from competition until paid
They say you can’t fight City Hall – and Carl Long is living proof. In 2009, Long was fined 200 points and $200,000 for an engine that was .17 cubic inches over the 358 limit – and down over 50 horsepower to the contending teams. The engine lasted all of three laps before Long was out of the event. Long was initially suspended for 12 weeks but was then reduced to eight; however since he has been unable to pay the four-year-old fine, he is not allowed to compete in the Cup Series in any capacity. He currently is a crew member in the Nationwide Series, but is still locked out of the Sprint Cup garage until he can pay the fine for his long deceased engine.
3. Jeremy Mayfield and Aaron Fike – Suspended indefinitely for drug use
Two of the sadder stories of the past decade involve two drivers who were once considered rising stars. Jeremy Mayfield was one of the up and coming drivers for Ford in the late 1990s before defecting to Dodge to help establish the groundwork for its 2001 return. After public criticism of team owner Ray Evernham’s personal affairs got him booted from the No. 19 Dodge midway through the 2006, he made a handful of starts for Bill Davis and tried to start his own team. In ’09, Mayfield was suspended for testing positive for methamphetamine. He has endured a host of legal and financial woes since, but maintains his innocence.
After Aaron Fike was working his way through the Truck and Busch series in the mid-2000s, and was sitting eighth in points in 2007 when he was arrested at an amusement park with his girlfriend, cooking up heroin in their car. He later admitted to having competed under the influence.
2. Curtis Turner – 1961 – Banned from competition for four years after supporting a driver’s union
Curtis Tuner is one of the most legendary figures in NASCAR history – more for the way he lived then for gaudy records or highlight-reel finishes. He was a lumber baron who drove cars because he liked to, not out of necessity. His parties were the thing of legend, often taking a break just long enough to go run the race – and then return to the house to get back at it. In 1961 however, he was seeking to protect his fellow drivers by attempting to organize a driver’s union along with fellow 2013 Hall of Fame nominee Tim Flock. This did not sit well with Big Bill France, who essentially banned both for life. The ban was rescinded after four years, during which time Turner built the Charlotte Motor Speedway – with the help of some creative financing and a Smith & Wesson to get the bulldozers rolling again.
1. Mark Martin – 1990 Winston Cup Championship – 46-point fine, Richmond
Under the new Chase points system, anything that happens in the first 26 races is often long forgotten by the time the final 10 events roll around. Under the system used from 1975-2003, it was a cumulative season-long fight with race No. 4 holding just as much value as race No. 30. In 1990, it would be the third race of the season that proved pivotal. A technical bulletin was issued that weekend with regards to welding and bolting a spacer plate to the intake manifold. Mark Martin’s No. 6 Ford passed inspection on three occasions that weekend without incident. It wasn’t until he won the race and Richard Childress phoned Bill France Jr., who was at home nursing a broken leg, protesting the win. As Jack Roush recounts, Childress made the claim to France, who was unaware of the bulletin and promised him that action would be taken. This was at a time when NASCAR was still leery of outsiders, and a Ford engineer who won championships in drag racing and SCCA road racing would meet that criteria — and Livonia, Mich., isn’t exactly North Wilkesboro, N.C. Martin and his Roush Racing team were fined 46 points and $30,000. He would ultimately fall short in the championship by 26 points to — who else? — the No. 3 Goodwrench team of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress.
by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese