If NASCAR doles out penalties for Ambrose vs. Mears, it can’t be one or the other

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Two days later, we’ve all seen the footage of Marcos Ambrose punching Casey Mears after the latter grabbed and shoved him in post-race Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

It seemed like a classic case of “short track tempers” – one part hard racing, then one part difference of opinion, and finally, one part closed fist into skull.

After years of seeing moments like this either through highlight packages or track promotion spots on television, we’re probably a bit numb to it all.

And so, wouldn’t it just be fine to chalk it up to “short track tempers” and be done with it?  Besides, you’d think nobody would be stupid enough to go for revenge at the next track on the schedule, Talladega Superspeedway, where one driver’s attempt at payback can become a million-dollar pile of mangled race cars.

But NASCAR still needs to respond to what occurred Saturday in Richmond between Ambrose and Mears. And when it does, they both need to be penalized.

Because while Ambrose managed to tag Mears in the face (the latter has since admitted that he got a ‘pretty good’ shot from the Australian), Mears did escalate the matter when he put his hands on Ambrose’s firesuit and moved him.

When somebody does that to you, you are compelled to defend yourself, right then and there. And that’s what Ambrose did.

All the same, the incident took away from where the focus needs to be, and that’s the racing.

As for what NASCAR can do to Ambrose and Mears, that’s for them to decide and they can do quite a bit. In Sporting News writer Bob Pockrass’ take on the situation, he notes that the NASCAR rulebook doesn’t have specific guidelines for “behavioral infractions” and that such matters are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Pockrass suggests a noticeable fine and probation for Ambrose, but not a suspension, which seems reasonable considering that these were two competitors settling their differences (albeit somewhat violently) just after they’d raced for 400 laps.

I’d suggest the same punishment for Mears and be done with them.

However, crewmen that injected themselves into Ambrose and Mears’ fight (watch the footage and you’ll notice one crewman getting a punch in on Ambrose) may need to be suspended, at least for one race. They needed to break the two drivers up, not get into their battle themselves.

It also bears noting that Mears has suggested the incident is not “something you just forget.” If I’m a NASCAR official, I’m taking that as another reason to penalize him and Ambrose, and to try and deter other drivers from repeating their episode in the future.

Where do you think NASCAR should come down on this matter? Use the comments to sound off, but we ask that you keep it clean.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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