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Pit-road incident boils over after race
A scuffle broke out on pit road when the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing crew charged the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team following Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Kurt Busch slid the No. 51 Chevrolet into the wall on Lap 361 while running in the top 15 and cut a right front tire. Consequently, Ryan Newman had his own issues, with an assist from Aric Almirola, when he checked up in Turn 2 to avoid contact.
The incident was exacerbated when Busch came to pit road for repairs and exited through the No. 39 stall, which was next to his pit.
“We came in to do a little damage repair and the 39 guys were mad because Kurt blew out of our pit stall and those guys were mad,” Busch’s crew chief Nick Harrison said. “Nothin’ I could do at that point. We were just trying to get to the end of the race.”
Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson said he has nothing against Phoenix Racing, but his crew was forced to “jump out of the way” to avoid being hit.
"When you come ripping through someone’s pit box like that, he could have taken out five or six guys plus the officials pretty easy,” Gibson said. “It’s a miracle someone didn’t get hurt.
“(Busch) just did a burnout through our pit. The guys were out on pit road working. We just finished our stop. It was kind of uncalled for to come ripping through our pits like that when you could have run everybody over. His emotions were high and hot and our guys were scared and hot and mad.
“We sat and talked to NASCAR. They’re going to handle everything. We just have to keep our cool and stay focused and go on.”
Following the race, the Phoenix Racing crew was asking for Busch’s locale at the track. Busch and Newman found each other on pit road — as the No. 51 ran into the back of the No. 39 Chevrolet. But it was the No. 39 team’s gasman Andy Rueger that charged the Phoenix Racing team and a NASCAR official was knocked down in the process.
“Their gasman (Rueger) — a big boy that used to be at Brewco — he came in there wanting to fight Kurt, raising hell," Harrison said. "I knew it was going to happen, but I was just trying to get to the end of the race.
“It was hard racing. We had a great run tonight, ran up front a lot. ... Just didn’t get the finish we were looking for. Kurt was a little frustrated and spun off pit road. I guess he was a little close to some of the pit road guys, but that’s between them and Kurt.
“As far as on the track racing, I don’t think there’s any hard feelings with the 39 and us. But they came down there with a bunch of drama. It’s just part of racing. I think that’s great for the sport. If they want to come down and fight, so be it.”
Newman, Gibson and Rueger were called to the NASCAR hauler following the incident.
“We plead our case, it’s crazy, pit road,” Gibson said. “Things happen, and everybody’s emotions run high. It’s a hot night. Everybody settles down and talks about it. We’re all good. We can’t control drivers. Nothing against the team — none of those guys. They didn’t do anything wrong.
“We’ll work it out. It will be fine. NASCAR is taking care of it.”
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said the sanctioning body had yet to speak to Busch and was taking the incident under review.
Despite speculation that Busch had jeopardized his position with the team, owner James Finch, who was vacationing in Key West, Fla., said via phone that wasn’t the case.
Harrison added that the team remained committed to its driver.
“We’re here racing with Kurt Busch and that’s our job,” Harrison said. “You go anywhere racing in America and you don’t back your driver up, you don’t deserve to be there with that driver. And that’s how we take it.”
Busch and Newman finished 21st and 23rd, respectively.