Teams for Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman get hot and bothered on pit road
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- A collision on pit road, a scuffle and hard feelings lingering after the Southern 500. Just another Saturday night at Darlington Raceway.
For the second consecutive year, the track's Sprint Cup event was capped by a melee, this time involving the teams of Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. The fracas was sparked by the No. 39 team's displeasure over the way Busch drove through their pit box late in the race, and brought back vivid memories of last season's scuffle between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch -- which the track used this year in promotional billboards posted all around the region.
There's more material to use for next year, thanks to an altercation that had its roots in on-track contact six laps from the finish of Saturday night's event. Busch spun, and Newman slowed in his wake, and wound up getting turned by Aric Almirola's vehicle. Both cars hit the wall.
Still, there were no hard feelings between the two teams -- until the ensuing pit stop. Newman's team contended an angry Busch peeled dangerously through their pit area, which was adjacent to the No. 51 team's. When the race ended, Busch made contact with Newman's car on pit road, and the crews poised for a rumble.
Andy Reuger, gas man for the No. 39 car, approached Busch's team and had to be restrained. In the skirmish that ensued, a NASCAR official ended up falling over the hood of Busch's car. Some of those involved say it was little more than a shoving match, but NASCAR thought enough of the incident to summon Reuger and No. 39 crew chief Tony Gibson to the Cup transporter after the race.
"It's bad enough doing normal pit stops. It's dangerous enough doing that," Gibson said. "When you come ripping through someone's pit box like that, [Busch] could have took out five or six guys plus the officials pretty easy. I don't know how somebody didn't get run over, to be honest with you. It was just a miracle somebody didn't get hit."
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said shortly after the race that the sanctioning body had spoken to Newman, but not Busch or any member of the No. 51 team. Pemberton said Newman told him Busch said he didn't mean to hit the No. 39 car on pit road after the event, and that the contact occurred when Busch was removing his helmet. NASCAR was still evaluating the dustup, Pemberton said, and any penalties will be issued next week if warranted.
"We're looking at everything we can and trying to get everything lined up," Pemberton said, "So we can see what we do if anything moving forward."
Neither driver could be located for comment after the race. Busch, who finished 21st, was evidently frustrated toward the finish of an event in which he had run in the top 10 for much of the night prior to his spin.
"Kurt was a little frustrated and spun [his tires] off pit road, and I guess he was a little close to some of the other pit crew guys or whatnot," said Nick Harrison, crew chief for the No. 51 car. "He says he was plenty clear. But that's between them and Kurt. As far as on-the-track racing, I'm not sure there are any hard feelings between us and the 39. We were trying to finish our day the best we could with our bad luck, and they came down there with a bunch of drama. It's just part of racing, part of what it is, and I think that's what's great for our sport. If they're mad and want to fight, so be it. If that's what it is, that's what it is. That's the way I look at it."
Gibson's issue clearly wasn't with the No. 51 team, which is owned by James Finch and like Newman's Stewart-Haas outfit uses Hendrick Motorsports equipment. "Got nothing against Finch's bunch," Gibson said. "Those guys, we're friends with those guys and work with them in and out. Can't do nothing about a driver."
Harrison said his team felt no hesitation in defending their driver. "We're here racing with Kurt Busch," he said. "We're going to defend Kurt Busch, and that's our job. You go racing in any part of America, and you don't back your driver up, you don't deserve to be there with that driver, and that's how we take it."
As for the NASCAR official who ended up across Busch's hood, Pemberton didn't want to rush to judgment, leaving open the possibility that he may have tripped rather than been pushed. "There's a lot of stuff going on down there," Pemberton said. "Nobody said anything other than he fell back on the hood. Our guys didn't even say anything. So we didn't see that there was anything aggressive toward one of our officials."
Harrison agreed. "He might have tripped and stumbled with a shove from another crew member or whatnot," Busch's crew chief said. "Just one of those things where people get bunched up and someone fell down. But no physical punches, nothing was [black and] blue. [A] lot of mouthing. Just frustration, and it was getting took out. It's racing, and it's Cup racing, and if people didn't get mad and they didn't care, they wouldn't come here -- and that's what we're here for."
Especially on a Saturday night at Darlington, as the last two races here would attest.