NASCAR leadership had two messages for Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell following their brief throwdown on Friday during qualifying for the TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
1. We love the intensity
2. Keep it off the race track
The altercation began during the first round of ‘knockout qualifying’ when drivers waited until the final minutes to attempt a timed lap. With so many drivers on track at the same time waiting for the cooler track conditions and the possibility of drafting cars in front of them, McDowell was slower than Suarez, leaving the Stewart-Haas youth upset with the Front Row Motorsports veteran.
Suarez believed that McDowell prevented him from turning a fast lap and both drivers missed the cut in the first round for the first time this season.
Suarez immediately got out of his car and made a beeline towards McDowell. After an exchange of words, McDowell reached for Suarez’s throats and the two drivers had to be separated. But the scuffle did not end without a Suarez takedown of the much larger McDowell.
Minutes later, the two talked it out without further incident, with McDowell even accepting blame for the on-track ordeal.
NASCAR officials met with both drivers for about 30 seconds on Saturday morning just to make sure any lingering animosity wouldn’t bleed over onto the race track.
"Oh, we gave them a quick bonus," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer told reporters on Saturday as chronicled by a Racing News report.
"Just kidding," O’Donnell said after the deadpan.
"No, we got criticized in the past. Rightly so, if you go back to Martinsville with Matt Kenseth, that we had never talked to the drivers after we saw something.
"From that perspective, lesson learned. The meeting from us lasted about 30 seconds.
"It was just, 'Hey, don’t let it play out on the track. Take care of your business off the track. Love the passion and see ya later.'
"Those two guys elected to stay and talk amongst themselves for a little bit. But, for us, it was about a 30 second meeting."
Meanwhile, NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Arizona Republic newspaper that he had very few qualms with how things played out.
"Seeing the passion and the emotion, that’s what our fans want to see," Phelps told The Republic on Sunday morning. "They want that intensity. They don’t want vanilla. The raw emotion is great.
"Leading to a physical altercation probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but these guys need to express themselves the way they want to express themselves."
NASCAR last penalized drivers for fighting in 2014 when Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears got into a scuffle following the spring race at Richmond Raceway.
Ambrose was fined $20,000 and placed on probation while Mears was docked $15,000.
That was following the ‘Have at it Boys,’ era where NASCAR encouraged drivers to embrace post-race intensity and off-track shows of emotion. Kyle Busch walked over to Joey Logano and punched him in the face following the 2017 race at Las Vegas without incident.
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