Friday 5: Should NASCAR let drivers fight or break up confrontations quickly?
Tyler Reddick looks at last week’s altercation between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson at Kansas Speedway and admits it “was kind of a bummer that it was broken up” after Chastain punched Gragson and Gragson didn’t have a chance to respond.
It’s not that Reddick has any ill will toward Chastain, it’s just the idea of a fight between drivers being broken up by NASCAR officials so early.
“If you’re going to break it up really early, break it up as soon as Noah puts his hand on Ross,” Reddick said. “Don’t wait for someone to throw the first punch. Then the guy that gets hit or missed by that first punch doesn’t have a chance to throw one back.
“I think from the driver’s point of view, why even go there and do anything? Looking at how that one went (between Chastain and Gragson), you’ve just got to go up and sucker punch somebody and that’s going to be the end of it. You’re not going to get hit back.”
Last weekend’s issues started on the track. Gragson was upset with how Chastain raced him, causing Gragson to hit the wall. Gragson responded by hitting Chastain’s car.
After the race, Gragson confronted Chastain on pit road, grabbed Chastain and shook him before Chastain punched Gragson. NASCAR security then separated the two before Gragson could throw a punch.
Reddick wasn’t the only driver to speak up about if drivers should be left to fight or separated quickly.
Harrison Burton, who was involved in a fight with Gragson in July 2020 after the Xfinity race at Kentucky, noted there could be situations where it is best to stop a fight quickly. But Burton also raised questions about breaking up the altercation between Chastain and Gragson.
“You just don’t want to have a guy get punched in the face and not be able to do anything about it, either,” Burton said. “So, it’s kind of in between a rock and a hard place. I know the fans love it. I love watching hockey fights and hockey in general because you know they’re going to be hitting each other hard. So, it’s a catch-22 for sure.
“I could definitely see where Noah probably would have wanted to have at least a fair shot to act. But, I don’t know. It’s probably on the safer side of things to separate us. The young guy in me wants to say, ‘Yeah, just let them fight it out.’ I’m not sure.”
NASCAR officials and security typically allow drivers to express their dissatisfaction with each other after the race and step in only when it becomes a physical confrontation. One of the challenges for officials is that they don’t always reach the scene before a physical confrontation takes place because of how far the cars are spread out on pit road after a race.
Without security, situations can escalate and that can lead to drivers getting hurt or others stepping in to try to break up the melee.
When Burton fought Gragson at Kentucky, the cars were parked elsewhere and they were alone before anyone intervened.
“When Noah and I fought, we were kind of able to fight for a while before anyone broke us up,” Burton said. “Then we went to the ground and all that. I didn’t have a problem with what happened with us.”
Reddick said one way to stop such incidents would be simple.
“Don’t even let the drivers get face-to-face after the race,” he said. “I would rather see it to where drivers can kind of voice their frustrations for a minute between them. If they want to fight, fight, but there’s a lot of emotions and adrenaline running in those moments.”
2. Where should NASCAR race next?
Now that NASCAR has raced inside a football stadium, maybe the sport can find a way to race around one.
Formula One showed it’s possible, running on a circuit that went around Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins, last weekend for the second consecutive year.
With all the hospitality buildings, grandstands, and fan amenities, including a champagne bar, faux marina and a chair lift over part of the course, it didn’t feel like the event was held in a stadium parking lot.
Such a concept could continue NASCAR’s quest to race in new places. The series has run inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the past two years and will debut on the streets of Chicago in July.
Running in football stadium parking lot could help the sport reach coveted markets that don’t have a track.
Of course, it doesn’t mean such an idea would be easy. The Miami Dolphins are better positioned to do so that many teams.
“We have the good fortune that we own the land and all the parking spots and the stadium,” said Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins and managing partner of the Miami Grand Prix, in response to a question from NBC Sports.
“Most stadiums around the country are owned by a municipality of some sort. That creates a lot of challenges to what we did here. We can just go and make the investment and do it. I talked to one person and he says, ‘Yeah, I believe in it. Let’s go do it.’
“Then I say, ‘We need to spend more money than we originally anticipated. We want to make this best in class.’ He said, ‘Just go do it.’
“If you have municipalities that own something like that, it’s a lot different process to get those decisions made and they’re made by committees and all kinds of things. I think it would be very difficult for other stadiums to do what we’ve done here from that standpoint.”
With NASCAR spending $50 million to put on the Chicago street course, could a similar commitment go into a stadium course in the right market? The sport is expected to get an increase in the next media rights deal, which begins in 2025. That would make now a good time to begin conversations with prospective stadiums to see what is possible.
Among the stadiums that could be suited for NASCAR would be the Meadowlands Complex, which includes MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and Jets of the NFL, and Empower Field at Mile High, home to the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
MetLife Stadium is located about five miles west of New York City, putting NASCAR as close to the nation’s No. 1 TV market as possible. Among the challenges will be that racing once was held there and left. IndyCar raced in the stadium’s parking lot from 1984-91. Another challenge would be finding a date. Since last year, the stadium has hosted concerts for Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Such future events could create a limited window for a race.
Empower Field at Mile High is a couple miles from downtown Denver. The city ranks 16th in U.S. TV markets. A race in Denver would give NASCAR an event in a city that it has looked at for years. The nearest track that hosts a NASCAR race is Kansas Speedway, which is about 600 miles away.
Racing is not new to Denver. It hosted IndyCar races in 1990-91 and 2002-06. The races in the 2000s were run in the streets around the arena for Denver’s NBA and NHL teams. Again, having a motorsports event there fail previously could be a roadblock to future efforts, among other things.
Officials from both stadiums did not return messages from NBC Sports.
To host a race would be expensive to for any stadium and Garfinkel notes the financial challenges that could come with such a move.
“Formula One, because of the popularity of the sport, the international nature of the sport, makes it possible to make this kind of investment and be able to get a return,” he said. “We want to do everything at the quality that, hopefully, you see around the campus vs. trying to do things really inexpensively just to put a race on.
“I think you need to have the revenues to do things the way we’ve done them here. I’m not sure if it wasn’t Formula One, if we’d be able to do that.”
3. Pre-race festivities
It was interesting attending my first Formula One race last weekend in Miami. One of the biggest things to come from last weekend’s race won by series points leader Max Verstappen was the uproar around the pre-race festivities.
F1 does things differently. While NASCAR and IndyCar fans are accustomed to drivers being introduced before a race, often with some sort of flair, that isn’t always the case in F1.
So when the Miami Grand Prix determined how it would do driver introductions, it went big. After being introduced by LL Cool J, each of the 20 drivers came out from smoke, passed through cheerleaders and a 30-piece orchestra.
Lando Norris expressed his displeasure with the intros. George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, also was not a fan of the pre-race festivities.
“It is distracting because we were on the grid for half an hour in all of our overalls in the sun, and I don’t think there’s any other sport in the world that 30 minutes before you go out to do your business that you’re out there in the sun, all the cameras are on you and make a bit of a show of it,” Russell said. “Can appreciate that in the entertainment world but, as I said, we only want what is best for the sport. We’re open to changes, but I guess we wouldn’t want to see it every other weekend.”
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, teammate to Russell, didn’t have a problem with what was done before the race.
“I think it’s cool that the sport is continuously growing and evolving and they’re not just doing the same stuff that they’ve done in the past,” Hamilton said. “They’re trying new things. They’re trying to improve the show, and I’m in full support of it. Jeez, I grew up listening to LL Cool J and LL Cool J was there. That was cool.”
To compare, driver introductions for Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway is scheduled to begin at 2:25 p.m. ET. The National Anthem will end at 2:56 p.m. ET, meaning Cup drivers will be outside their vehicles for more than 30 minutes in temperatures around 85 degrees before competing.
“For us, it’s a routine,” Tyler Reddick said. “It’s all we’ve ever known, so it’s part of your preparation. You hydrate, get ready for the weekend. You know you’re going to be in the sun a little bit. It’s just part of it. I think probably more for (Formula One drivers) … I would have to imagine it’s not a part of their normal pre-race routine. If you’re not used to being in the heat or the sun for those extra 30 minutes … it’s going to feel different. You’re going to be out of your routine.”
4. Extra track time at North Wilkesboro
With North Wilkesboro hosting the All-Star Race next weekend — the first Cup race there since 1996 — several drivers will compete in events Tuesday and Wednesday to get additional track time.
The ASA Stars National Tour for pavement super late models, will race at North Wilkesboro on Tuesday. The 55-car entry list includes Cup drivers Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson and William Byron.
The Solid Rock Carriers Cars Tour features 39 late model entries for Wednesday’s race. Cup drivers entered are Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez. Also entered is NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr.
5. Most stage points this season
As the Cup Series reaches the halfway point of the 26-race regular season this weekend at Darlington, here’s a look at the drivers who have scored the most stage points this season.
111 — William Byron
99 — Ross Chastain
93 — Denny Hamlin
88 — Kyle Larson
76 — Christopher Bell
76 — Kevin Harvick
72 — Tyler Reddick
67 — Joey Logano
63 — Martin Truex Jr.
63 — Alex Bowman
Read more about NASCAR
Dr. Diandra: Darlington mellowed over decades but still one of NASCAR’s... NASCAR weekend schedule at Darlington Raceway David Pearson: A superhero in plain clothes
Friday 5: Should NASCAR let drivers fight or break up confrontations quickly? originally appeared on NBCSports.com