In his first public comments since last Saturday’s punch of Casey Mears and subsequent fines and penalties issued by NASCAR, Marcos Ambrose said he regrets the incident but will not apologize for it either.
“As it goes down, if I had my chance to think back about it, a wiser man would have walked away a little bit earlier and not got himself in that situation,” Ambrose said during a media event Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I don’t apologize for my actions. I was just standing up for myself and my team and my family and letting people know that you can’t get in my private space like that and expect not to have any consequences.”
Both drivers were penalized Tuesday by NASCAR, with Ambrose receiving a higher fine ($25,000) due to his actual punching Mears, who was fined $15,000 for pushing and shoving Ambrose. Each was also placed on probation through May 28, three days after the Coca-Cola 600 race in Charlotte.
Although he drew the harsher penalty, Ambrose understood NASCAR’s side.
“I got myself in a bad situation,” Ambrose said. “I caused an action that NASCAR needed to reprimand, so I’m happy to pay it and happy to move on.
“It’s a heavy fine. That’s the biggest fine I’ve ever received in racing and I think that NASCAR needed to do something and whatever they chose to do, I’ll pay it.”
Ambrose said he’s still somewhat baffled why Mears instigated the confrontation.
“The altercation I had with Casey was quite impromptu,” Ambrose said. “As I was walking past the 13 car, as he’d finished the race, I was actually heading over to have a chat with David Gilliland just to say we’re all good after we got into each other a couple of times.
“Some words were said and I was confused about why Casey was so annoyed at me, and I think you just see a lot of the passion that the drivers have and the commitment we have to try to win these races and try to run at the front. That passion kind of got out of hand and got out of control pretty quick.”
If he had to do it all over again, Ambrose might take a different tact. But in the heat of the moment, he reacted in the way he did because he feared what Mears might do next.
“I think I’ve learned my lesson on that one,” Ambrose said. “I think next time I might scamper into the race hauler or scamper back to the plane and have a sleep on things. There’s just so much emotion. This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.
“At the time, even after the incident went down, I didn’t think much of it. I just thought, ‘Well, he started pushing me around and I just had to get him away from me,’ because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. If he starts pushing me in the toolbox what happens next? Is he going to try to throw one on me?”
Ambrose even joked a bit of the response he received when he got back home afterward.
“So I was trying to get out of there and it wasn’t until a few hours later that the adrenaline starts to whoa down and you start to realize what you had done,” he said. “And then the next day when you have to talk to your kids about it and your wife is mad at you, you realize that walking away would have been a much smarter option.”
Ambrose insists he did try to walk away, but when Mears began to shove him, it didn’t leave Ambrose much choice in how to react.
“There was plenty of stuff said, but before the pushing,” Ambrose said. “He was upset and he was letting me know how upset he was. And then when I went to walk away he just couldn’t handle it any longer. As soon as he grabbed hold of me there, I knew I was going to have to get a shot in and I was just waiting for the right moment.”
Ambrose said he’s never had a physical confrontation before in his career, not even in his pre-NASCAR days in his native Australia. But he’s also willing to let bygones be bygones with Mears.
“I’m happy to move on and put the week behind us,” Ambrose said, adding that he and Mears have talked more than once since Richmond. “It’s certainly not a proud moment of mine, but I certainly don’t take anything back that I did. Casey and I spoke about it and he said, if the shoe was on the other foot he probably would have done the same thing.”
Ambrose even extended a gesture of friendship to Mears.
“I honestly believe that we’ll enjoy having a beer with each other,” he said. “I think we have a mutual respect for each other. I like Casey a lot. I didn’t have any beef with him after the race, but emotions just got out of hand and we both recognized that if we had our time again it wouldn’t happen again, but now it has, you can’t take back what has happened.
“I’ve spoken to him and I’m not carrying anything forward. He has to decide what he wants to do moving forward, but if we get ourselves in a pub somewhere I’d buy him a beer, no problem.”
Also offering his first comments on the incident, team owner Richard Petty defended his driver for essentially protecting himself.
Petty also questioned why NASCAR penalized his driver more severely than Mears, who instigated the incident by pushing and shoving Ambrose before the latter reacted in self-defense mode.
“I always look at it as you have to defend yourself no matter what the circumstances are, and that’s what I saw in the Marcos situation,” Petty said. “What provoked it? I have no idea.
“I don’t even think Marcos knows really what provoked the whole thing. But in the scheme of things, if you can’t protect yourself, then NASCAR is not going to come and protect you, so he had to do what he had to do.
“… As you can see in the tape, (Ambrose) did not initiate any of that. He was trying to get away. So I think from that standpoint, I don’t know what (NASCAR’s) rationale is. I’ll just have to talk to them and see what they come up with.”
Petty even laughed at times about the incident. When asked if he ever had any confrontations of note with other drivers during his racing career, Petty demurred.
“No comment,” he said with a laugh. “(Physical confrontations between drivers) used to go on a little bit all the time, but they didn’t have all of the TV cameras and all that stuff, so you could go around behind a truck and do what you needed to do and there wasn’t very many people who knew about it.”
When asked if he wishes Ambrose would have done things differently, Petty again replied with a laugh.
“You’ve got to defend yourself no matter what, but if he knew he was going to be fined $25,000, (Ambrose) might have let the guy (Mears) take another swing at him,” Petty said.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski