Three thoughts on NASCAR’s penalties from Charlotte


1. This is not what Tony Stewart needed.

Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, was cleared of criminal charges stemming from the August sprint car accident that killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr.

But not before his name and character took a beating from a good part of the American public.

While NASCAR Nation, by and large, has been quick to welcome Smoke back, there’s a group just as big that believes Stewart has gotten away with murder.

And that latter group may have just gotten more ammo today when NASCAR penalized Stewart $25,000 for backing into Brad Keselowski in the moments after Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Keselowski, who had just tangled on the track with Denny Hamlin during the cool-down lap, then proceeded to hit the side of Matt Kenseth’s car and the rear end of Stewart’s at the entrance of pit road.

Stewart took exception to the impact, threw his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in reverse, and delivered an impact of his own to Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

This incident and the fatal one that took place on Aug. 9 in upstate New York between Stewart and Ward are completely different.

But will that stop the anti-Stewart crowd from connecting the two incidents together and attack him as they did back in August?

Will that stop the Ward family from doing the same, perhaps using Saturday’s incident as evidence in a civil suit against him?

The overarching message in NASCAR’s penalties against Stewart and Keselowski (who was fined a bigger sum of $50,000 and, like Stewart, put on four races’ worth of probation) is that using the car as a weapon, no matter the circumstances, is unacceptable.

Fair enough.

And you can definitely make an argument that considering the aforementioned beating he took in the court of public opinion, Stewart should have just taken the shot from Keselowski on Saturday night and avoided any form of confrontation.

But compared to Hamlin, Keselowski, and Matt Kenseth’s respective actions in Saturday’s post-race dust-up, you can also argue that Stewart’s actions were the least offensive in nature.

For him to get fined and put on probation while Hamlin and Kenseth escaped any form of punishment at all is a bit tough to take.

2. A fight is a fight. Right?

Following the April race at Richmond International Raceway, Marcos Ambrose slugged Casey Mears after the latter had shoved him. Both Ambrose and Mears were fined (Ambrose, $25,000; Mears, $15,000) and put on probation for a month.

So, you’d figure a punishment was coming for Kenseth after he attacked Keselowski from behind on Saturday and put him in a headlock, right?

Wrong. Kenseth got away from the whole thing clean. But how?

NASCAR on NBC contributor Nate Ryan revealed a possible answer in his USA TODAY report: The sanctioning body reviewed video of the Kenseth-Keselowski incident and determined that neither man had thrown punches at each other.

But wasn’t it still a fight? Kenseth did put his hands on Keselowski, after all.

Furthermore, today’s decision doesn’t seem to follow precedence set by the Ambrose-Mears tilt. It’s also bound to make fans think that had Stewart just driven to the garage after being hit on pit road by Keselowski, waited for him, and then socked him, he wouldn’t have been penalized.

Meanwhile, drivers in the garage may now be making the following mental note: “If there comes a time to throw down, do not use your fists…You may be better off using your legs and your feet.”

3. And what about Denny Hamlin?

Hamlin himself admitted to brake-checking Keselowski down the backstretch on the cool-down lap after they had raced hard against each other in the last two laps of the race.

Keselowski promptly attempted to spin him in Turn 3, but couldn’t do it. Then, after Keselowski had his run-in with Kenseth and Stewart on pit road, Hamlin chased Keselowski through the garage in his car.

Keselowski and Stewart were penalized for violating Section 12-4.9 of this year’s NASCAR rule book: “Behavioral penalty – involved in a post-race incident.”

Sure seems like Hamlin was involved in a post-race incident to me. But, like Kenseth, he was not fined or put on probation.

In the meantime, Hamlin probably owes a few steak dinners to the crew members that kept him from going after Keselowski once he got out of his car.

Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)