After the run-in between Busch and Kevin Harvick at Darlington Raceway, Richard Childress vowed before God, the drivers and NASCAR brass in the hauler that if Busch damaged another RCR vehicle he would exact revenge.
This was no empty threat. It was black and white.
And Childress is a man of his word.
So after Busch roughed up Joey Coulter’s race truck on the cool-down lap Saturday because he didn’t like the way the 20-year-old rookie raced him for fifth place, Childress was honor-bound to make good on his promise.
Coulter’s truck, earmarked for next weekend’s Texas race, now requires a trip to a fabrication shop before it will be ready for competition. For an owner who started in a one-bay garage, the unnecessary damage of property was taken as a personal attack.
Uncharacteristically, Childress went back to the truck garage where, according to witnesses, he removed his watch and stuck his ring in his pocket. Then he went to find Busch.
Childress was done talking. Reasoning had not worked with the 26-year-old in the past; it was time for action against a driver — and a team.
So, in old-school fashion, the 65-year-old Childress, a former racer, started swinging. The blows struck Busch, but they also sent a message to the Joe Gibbs Racing team.
To understand Childress’ actions — they resulted Monday in a $150,000 fine and probation through the end of the year — one must understand the depth of his frustration. Consider:
• Before Saturday’s altercation, there was the Darlington Speedway incident between RCR and Gibbs drivers — and it was a costly one.
After Busch collected Harvick and fellow RCR driver Clint Bowyer near the end of the race — “Eighteen hooked me,” Harvick said over the radio — Harvick followed Busch to pit road. Though Busch tried to elude him, Harvick got out of his car and reached into Busch’s window with his left arm.
Busch, still in his car, then punted the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet into the pit wall, causing $30,000 in damage to the car’s front end. Tack on the $25,000 Harvick was fined, plus the probation he received through June 15 for all NASCAR events.
• Last summer, a former RCR employee with knowledge of RCR set-ups left for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Not long after, NASCAR investigated Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevrolet at Richmond, which resulted in a warning from officials. After Bowyer’s victory at New Hampshire, his car was declared illegal: NASCAR concluded Bowyer’s car at Richmond had exceeded the tolerances for the positioning of the body on the frame. Childress’ crew chief, Shane Wilson, was levied a $150,000 fine (later reduced to $100,000), and the No. 33 team was docked 150 driver and owner points.
Many wondered how Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin acquired enough information to make the following accusation against Childress at Dover:
“In the garage, everyone has known it for months,” Hamlin said. “It’s not two weeks old. This is something that’s been going on for months. They’ve (33 team) been warned for a long time, way before Richmond. This is not something that, ‘Oh, man, they just told us halfway after Richmond and going into Loudon that our car’s wrong.’
“They knew it was wrong way before that, and I felt like they just, they wanted to get everything they could. What did they have to lose really? You almost can’t fault them for that.”
And if, as Hamlin charged, everyone knew, why wasn’t Richard Childress Racing busted long before Richmond?
Hamlin’s rant the Friday before the Dover race led Harvick to defend the company’s honor with his chrome horn during Saturday practice.
A dust-up occurred between Hamlin and Harvick the Nos. 11 and 29 on the track, leading Childress to later quip, “You can’t win a pissing contest with a skunk.”
• To further fuel the feud, there’s the issue of Harvick having once advised Busch on how to start a truck team. And how did Busch thank Harvick? He hired Harvick’s championship crew chief, Rick Ren, to be general manager of Kyle Busch Motorsports.
• As for Childress, there are those who question whether he has been on the wrong side of NASCAR since 2007, when his then-sponsor, Cingular, merged with AT&T. AT&T filed a lawsuit against the sanctioning body to replace Cingular with the AT&T brand on Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet. NASCAR had grandfathered the Cingular and Alltel sponsorships in the Cup Series after Nextel became the title sponsor in 2004.
There were also tense moments after Shell-Pennzoil became the title sponsor of Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet and received tremendous exposure after the driver’s 2007 Daytona 500 win — much to the chagrin of Sunoco, the official fuel supplier of NASCAR.
Still, Childress continues to be a staunch supporter of the sport. He has had his share of setbacks in the 38 years he has helped build NASCAR — he lost his best friend, Dale Earnhardt, on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 — but he also has built an empire that was once unimaginable to a man with such humble beginnings.
None of this excuses what happened Saturday between Childress and Busch in the truck garage.
Yes, NASCAR’s roots stem from outlaws who maintained justice with the threat of firearms or fists. And the sport grew to national prominence from highlight reels of brawls and crashes: Who can blame NASCAR for airing footage of the 1979 Daytona 500 throwdown among Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers, when it suits the sport’s marketing purposes?
In this day and age, NASCAR can’t condone this kind of violence. NASCAR can’t afford that kind of escalation in stock car racing. Nevertheless, it’s easy to understand the forces at play that caused Richard Childress to do what he did.
Old-school racers will always take care of business in old-school ways, even when it is not politically correct to do so.