NASCAR’s Senior Director of Communication Kerry Tharp told Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody that the $25,000 fines and four-race probations handed down to drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are in response to what happened on pit road after Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and not for anything that transpired in the final laps of the race.
“We look very closely at what happens on the race track,” said Tharp. “But more importantly after the race, (where) the actions of those two competitors led to putting some people in harm’s way on pit road. We’ve got to maintain a safe environment on pit road, and we’re going to maintain a safe environment there. That’s why we reacted with the penalties.
Tharp said NASCAR fined both drivers equally because, “both had skin in the game. Both had opportunities to make other decisions that would not have put them in this situation, so the penalty was assessed to both.” He said the sanctioning body has reached out to both Busch and Harvick to clarify what is expected of them going forward, saying, “Anytime we penalize a driver, we have a conversation with that individual and their team owner. We feel like we owe it to both parties to give them a heads-up on what the penalties will be, so they can notify their respective teams and sponsors. We’ve had conversations with Kevin and Kyle and explained why we were penalizing them.”
Tharp stressed that while NASCAR’s official announcement specifies probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events, Harvick and Busch are also expected to be on their best behavior in the non-point Sprint All- Star Race on May 21 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “(The probation) encompasses the four championship point races in the Sprint Cup Series, but it also covers all NASCAR events that those two competitors may be in, including this weekend at Dover in the Camping World Truck Series,” he said. “It includes any and all events they may choose to compete in between now and June 15. It’s an all-inclusive NASCAR probation.”
Tharp said breaches of on-track protocol during the probationary period – regardless of what division -- could result in Sprint Cup Series penalties. “Once again, the key is that this applies to all NASCAR events. It’s not just how they race one another, either. It applies to how the race the rest of the field, as well. Whether it’s a Camping World Truck Series race, a Nationwide race or certainly a Sprint Cup Series race, we felt like we needed to send a message as it pertains to safety.”
He said the penalties do not signal a change in NASCAR’s “Boys Have At It” policy, adding, “The drivers have done a very good job of that. We’ve seen some terrific, hard racing over the last couple of years, and I think (the policy) is alive and well. We certainly want it to be.
“There has been a time or two where we’ve had to step in and do something, including last weekend at Darlington (with Juan Pable Montoya and Ryan Newman) when we felt there needed to be a reaction on our part. But as far as the racing on the track is concerned, it’s been terrific. But post-race, when you have an incident like we had Saturday, you have to step in and make a ruling. And we did.”
Tharp said he does not expect NASCAR to sanction either Newman or Montoya for a reported physical confrontation during a closed-door meeting at Darlington Raceway last Friday. “You go into some meetings thinking they’re going to go well, and most of the time they hit the mark. Sometimes, they don’t,” he said. “We met with Ryan and Juan Friday and made it clear to them that this was their final warning and we will be watching them very closely. I believe both of them understood where we were coming from. They got the message, loud and clear. They raced hard Saturday night at Darlington, but they raced cleanly. I believe they will continue to do so moving forward.”