INDIANAPOLIS -- NASCAR chairman Bill France wonders whether Tony Stewart might have been provoked into hitting a photographer after a 12th-place finish in the Brickyard 400.
While NASCAR continued its investigation Monday, France said he would be interested in seeing pictures or footage of the confrontation, if any exist.
Stewart punched Gary Mook, a freelance photographer for The Indianapolis Star, after the race Sunday. Mook was trying to take pictures of Stewart as he hustled through the garage area, when Stewart stopped and hit him in the chest.
France did not condone Stewart's actions but wanted to know whether the photographer might have been too aggressive in doing his job, which could have angered Stewart.
''All I know is what I have heard, and I don't know what provoked it,'' France told The Associated Press.
''But I've seen shots that came from when photographers got right up in everyone's face. If Tony is running and a photographer is following, and I guess trying to get his picture, he's doing his job.
''But I don't know where it says that Tony is obligated to stand there with a beautiful smile on his face and pose for pictures.''
France said Stewart could face disciplinary action, but any punishment would be determined by NASCAR president Mike Helton and his staff.
NASCAR spent Monday interviewing several reporters and photographers who witnessed the altercation, with some saying Stewart also kicked Mook, said NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. No one has come forward with photographic evidence.
Helton spoke with Gibbs, but the sanctioning body had not talked to either Stewart or Mook, and Hunter would not speculate what kind of punishment Stewart might face.
''To say for certain there will be a penalty is not giving Tony the benefit of the doubt,'' Hunter said. ''We are in the process of sorting through the facts and to do so, we need to speak everyone involved. We have plans to speak to Tony.''
The Star sent a letter Monday to NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing, said assistant managing sports editor Tim Wheatley. He said the paper asked for assurances that such incidents would be prevented in the future.
Wheatley also said Mook did not provoke Stewart.
''If provoking means trying to take your photo when you're mad, then that's what he did,'' Wheatley said. ''He didn't stick a camera in the car. He's just trying to do his job.''
Stewart, an Indiana native who wants desperately to win a race on his home track, started from the pole and had a strong car most of the day. He was running third when he suddenly faded over the final few laps.
He pulled his No. 20 Pontiac into the garage, hopped out and abandoned the car next to one of the empty bays at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As Stewart hurriedly walked off, he swatted his hand in the air when approached from behind by a man. Mook was following and Stewart broke into a trot to get away.
Mook ran alongside him, and Stewart turned to him and threw several punches before he was pulled away.
''He struck me in the chest,'' Mook told The Star in a story printed Monday. ''I ran, I got in front of him to take a picture and I got off one frame. He came toward me and struck me in the chest to get me out of the way. I didn't pursue him.''
Mook told the newspaper that Stewart struck him once, adding the confrontation was ''being totally blown out of proportion.''
On Sunday, Mook spoke to Gibbs in a lengthy conversation next to the team hauler and the two exchanged business cards.
''I talked to the gentleman and I feel confident we don't have a problem there,'' Gibbs said. ''We had a good discussion. That's all I really need to say about it.''
Mook told The Star that Gibbs called him later.
''I dealt with it man to man with Joe Gibbs,'' Mook told the newspaper. ''He assured me it would be handled. I was happy with the resolution. Nothing further will come from it.''
Stewart has a history of run-ins after races.
He's been known to push past cameras and reporters as he hurries out of the track following disappointing performances, and he was fined for an altercation at Daytona last season.
After NASCAR tried to black-flag him in the 2001 Pepsi 400, Stewart had to be restrained by Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli during an argument with a NASCAR official, then slapped away a reporter's tape recorder and kicked it when the reporter tried to pick it up.
He was fined $10,000 for that, had the stint of probation he already was on extended for the entire year and was ordered to publicly apologize to the reporter.
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