Murto: Driver fights part of racing

The NASCAR Cup race at Richmond was another competitive event in what is turning out to be an exciting season of racing, but the video that got the most post-race views involved the fight between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears.

There really wasn’t any race video to determine what Mears and Ambrose were upset about. The two have had altercations in the past, but so have every other pair of drivers on the track. In the final 10 laps of the race the TV cameras covered the incredible four-car battle for the lead; there’s little doubt cars in the middle of the pack, including Mears and Ambrose, traded just as much paint.

After a commercial break, TV coverage picked up with Ambrose and Mears engaged in a heated discussion in the garage area. It appeared that Ambrose began to walk away and was grabbed from the side and behind by Mears, who use both hands to strong arm Ambrose.

If somebody strong armed me in that fashion, I might be inclined to knock them upside the head with the heavy end of my cane. I don’t know very many people who would accept that sort of treatment. And of all the Australians I’ve met, none would put up with it.

Once Ambrose broke free of Mears’ grip, he gave Mears a clean right hook to the side of the face, near the eye. Clearly it was a reaction to the shoving he endured.

Crew members from Justin Algaier’s crew stepped in and ushered Ambrose aside, restraining him from the fight. They also got between him and Mears, who regained his composure and attempted to again confront Ambrose.

That’s where the fight appeared to end. And that’s where it should end. There should be no fines, no penalties; as much as it doesn’t paint the sport in a good light or set a good example for children, drivers get upset and have issues to work out among themselves. As long as they leave it there and it doesn’t escalate, the matter should be closed.

Who should get penalized anyway? Mears for being upset? One of the criticisms of the sport is that drivers don’t show enough emotion. Should Ambrose be penalized for throwing a punch? In a court of law, most juries would agree that Ambrose acted in self-defense. Besides, in some sports such as hockey the game-interrupting fights are simply part of the sport. The short, spontaneous, true-to-life confrontation between two intense competitors after a frustrating night on the racetrack should be dismissed as just that and thought of no longer, with no action taken against anybody.

Except for one individual. If you watch the video, you’ll see that as Ambrose is restrained and led away from the scene, a bystander — most likely a crew member — with a shaved head and wearing a Richard Childress Racing (RCR) jacket, slips in and throws Ambrose a sucker punch. Sucker punches such as that are usually thrown by individuals who have their manhood questioned publicly.

RCR supplies cars and engines to the team for which Mears drives. In the past couple of years we’ve had Richard Childress himself attack Kyle Busch, and his crew members jump Nelson Piquet Jr. in the drivers’ RV lot. Whether it’s Childress or a guy who sweeps the floors, members of teams need to mind their own business and let drivers work things out for themselves, on and off the track. NASCAR should find the crew member who threw the sucker punch and ban him from the garage area for the rest of the year, and place him on lifetime probation when he’s allowed to return in 2015.

Physical altercations among drivers can’t be condoned, but altercations between drivers and crew members should be condemned. It’s just a fact of life that competitive racers are sometimes going to fight, on and off the track.

Unfortunately we lost the chance to see a real fight for the win in Indycar at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Indycar did a great job to get the race in following torrential rain. But the race, which started as a timed event, ended under caution. Had it restarted we would have seen a great battle between eventual winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. The anticipation of a possible restart, only to see time run out as cleanup crews tried to finish, was quite a letdown. If Indycar is smart, they will immediately institute a green-white-checkered rule similar to NASCAR.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.