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Stewart's rant was justified but childish

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

JOLIET, Ill. -- Tony Stewart's tirade at the end of Saturday's Pepsi 400 provided even more evidence of two alarming trends: First is Stewart's penchant to juvenile outbursts. Second is NASCAR's ability to provide consistent rule in stock car racing.

What Stewart did at the end of the race was wrong. What NASCAR did, however, was even worse.

Drivers were warned before the race that the track apron was off limits. In the past, some have used the apron at Daytona International Speedway as a passing lane. NASCAR put a yellow line at the bottom of the inside groove and declared anything left of the line was out of bounds. Simple enough.

With four laps remaining, Stewart's Pontiac veered hard left below the yellow line, but the tire mark on the passenger door proved the maneuver wasn't intentional. He moved left to avoid Johnny Benson's car. Anything less would have created a massive crash.

NASCAR issued the black flag for moving below the yellow line. Stewart ignored it. They waved it again. And again. Stewart ignored the penalty and was the sixth person to cross the finish line.

Moments later, Stewart had a meltdown. Already on probation for slamming into Jeff Gordon's parked car on pit road after the race at Bristol, Tenn., Stewart took out his frustration by slapping a recorder from the hand of a reporter, then kicking it under one of the team's transporters. Then he went after Gary Nelson, NASCAR's competition director.

Stewart was stopped just short of turning a tantrum into battery. Car owner Joe Gibbs, who was animated on pit road while he and crew chief Greg Zipadelli argued the intent of their driver's move, grabbed Stewart just as he lunged toward NASCAR's top cop.

The sanctioning body could have suspended Stewart, but it then would have to offer an explanation to his sponsor, The Home Depot, which is the official home improvement store of NASCAR.

NASCAR instead hurt him in other ways. It dropped him to 26th in the final rundown the last car on the lead lap. The result was the loss of 65 points in the series championship race.

On Wednesday, it fined him $10,000, extended his probation until the end of the racing season and required him to offer formal apologies to the reporter and NASCAR.

Stewart's actions were childish and boorish. His flare-ups have become far too routine. His considerable talent is too often overshadowed by his temper and immaturity.

That said, Stewart was right to be angry.

NASCAR's rules seemingly are implemented at a whim. Other drivers, including his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte, went below the yellow line during the night, but none was penalized. The sanctioning body decided to make an example of Stewart.

REACH Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.



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