NASCAR apparently found some of what transpired in the wild aftermath of Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 not to its liking.
On Tuesday, the sanctioning body fined Brad Keselowski $50,000 and Tony Stewart $25,000 and put each on probation for four weeks for their involvement in post-race incidents at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In response to what Keselowski said was an incident earlier in the race, he attempted to spin out Denny Hamlin on the “cool down” lap following the checkered flag then slammed into Matt Kenseth as all three approached the entrance to pit road.
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In the bottleneck, Stewart’s car was damaged as well. He then put his No. 14 car in reverse and drove down pit road the wrong way and flattened the front of Keselowski’s car.
Keselowski drove into the garage area and through the stalls with Hamlin close behind him. After they exited their cars, Hamlin was restrained by members of his team while Kenseth ran after Keselowski, caught up with him between haulers and put him in a headlock before the two were separated.
Neither Hamlin nor Kenseth were penalized.
“These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s senior vice president for competition and racing development. “We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level, and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves.
“However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised.”
Keselowski and officials at Team Penske declined to comment, as did Stewart. The drivers won’t appeal their respective penalties.
Stewart’s actions, largely lost in the mass of post-race incidents on Saturday night, have become the focal point of several mainstream media reports this week of the race.
Last month, a grand jury in upstate New York, declined to charge Stewart in the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. in an incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in August.
The penalties assessed to Keselowski and Stewart were considered behavioral penalties and not subject to NASCAR’s new penalty system, which classifies penalties into six levels (P1-P6).
Instead, behavioral penalties are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and punishment can be wide-ranging.
Few drivers believed any serious penalties would come out of Saturday night’s incidents considering NASCAR’s new Chase format was designed to increase drama around the events.
In fact, Saturday’s race winner, Kevin Harvick offered this response when asked after his win whether he thought NASCAR would penalize the participants: “No way!” he said. “They’re loving it!”