Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were fined $25,000 apiece and put on probation Tuesday by NASCAR for their actions on pit road at Darlington Raceway.
The probation for all NASCAR-sanctioned events runs through June 15, a span that includes four Sprint Cup Series championship races and the non-points $1 million All-Star event. It also includes Friday night's Truck Series race at Dover — an event Harvick only entered after his confrontation with Busch.
Probation is typically no more than a verbal warning that NASCAR will not tolerate any further misconduct during the designated period, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. dismissed the idea either Busch or Harvick will race any differently while on probation.
"Probation doesn't change the way you're going to drive because you're still going to drive hard and race as hard as you can," Earnhardt said Tuesday while promoting the new HD video board at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"Probation just means it's obvious when things are intentional and things aren't. If they go out of the box and do (postrace) things then probation becomes a problem. You can still race hard and get into your fair share of scrapes, and that's a part of racing."
Busch and Harvick's on-and-off feuding resumed Saturday night after contact Busch had with Harvick led to Harvick wrecking with teammate Clint Bowyer late in the race.
Afterward, Harvick waited for Busch and then positioned himself to park his car in front of Busch on pit road. Busch pulled onto Harvick's bumper, Harvick climbed from his car and, just as he threw a punch into Busch's window, Busch used his car to bump Harvick's car out of the way.
The empty car turned and hit the inside wall. No one was hurt, but Harvick's crew members were running down pit road when the car hit the wall.
"These penalties are a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over," said NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp. "They are about maintaining a safe environment on pit road."
NASCAR did not penalize Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya for their actions in their ongoing disagreements.
Their latest blowup began two weeks ago at Richmond, when Newman wrecked Montoya, and Montoya intentionally retaliated later in the race. A meeting between the two moderated by NASCAR at Darlington apparently grew heated — NASCAR said in a statement it "did not go as well as we had hoped" — and Newman is rumored to have punched Montoya.
Neither driver would confirm or deny that a punch was thrown.
Although NASCAR said it was still considering penalizing Newman and/or Montoya, Tharp said it wasn't necessary.
"We believe they received our message loud and clear that enough is enough," Tharp said.
NASCAR had to balance scolding the drivers for their behavior against its relaxed "Boys, have at it" policy the sanctioning body adopted last year. Strict punishment could discourage drivers from showing the raw emotion that fans respond to, but not responding at all could create a dangerous anything goes mentality.
"I think NASCAR has to make themselves visible and tangible as some sort of ruling body," Earnhardt said. "If they just kind of step back and let the idiots run the asylum, that's not going to work out too well. Anytime we get out of hand, they need to step in."