Teams still trying to make sense of ugly postrace melee at New Hampshire

Updated: September 18, 2008, 4:28 PM ET

AP Photos/Jime Cole

NASCAR officials try to restore order on pit road Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Opinions differ on penalties, intent in New Hampshire brawl

Cooler heads have prevailed since Saturday's WWE Smackdown, er, Craftsman Truck Series race at New Hampshire. Red Horse Racing's David Starr and Germain Racing's Todd Bodine, the on-track combatants, aren't planning a sequel Saturday in Las Vegas.

Some of their crew can't even if they want to.

NASCAR handed down a laundry list of fines, suspensions and probations Wednesday following the ugly postrace melee on pit road that stole the attention from Ron Hornaday Jr.'s dominant win.

During the event, Starr was involved in three incidents that wrecked three trucks, the latter two being Germain Racing's No. 9 (driven by David Reutimann) and Bodine's No. 33. After the checkered flag flew, Bodine gave Starr a nudge from behind on the way to pit road, his method of voicing displeasure.

No. 33 crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. had another idea: confronting Starr while he still sat in the No. 11 Toyota on pit road. Red Horse crew rushed to the truck in defense, more Germain crew followed, and the fists flew. At one point the situation was brought to a near standstill, but it flared again when some No. 9 crew members joined the scrum.

NASCAR's assessment of the situation involved eight men being sanctioned. Mark Hillman, Mike Hillman Jr. and Red Horse Racing crew member William Divel were suspended from the Vegas race, fined and put on probation. Crew chiefs Rick Gay and Jason Overstreet, of the No. 11 and No. 9, respectively, were fined and put on probation. Two other crewmen, Brandon Hopkins of the No. 30 and Tony Jilson of the No. 9, were put on probation. Starr incurred the biggest fine -- $10,000 -- and also received probation.

None of the three teams involved was penalized championship or owners' points, but each was put on probation for the rest of the season.

Got all that?

None of it surprised Bodine.

"You know NASCAR's got to do something, whatever their interpretation of what happened and who was involved," the 2006 series champion said. "I'm not disappointed with what they did -- I know they had to do something.

"This is part of a penalty that they are consistent with. The crew chief is responsible for his crew. They've shown that consistently in the past, and they did it with this deal."

Bodine watched the festivities from a safe distance ("What was I going to do over there? Get my head knocked off?" he said), but Starr was immediately put in the middle. From his perspective, he had no other course of action but to come out swinging.

"I was brought up as a kid to never start anything but definitely don't run from anything, and that's pretty much how that played out. The situation we were put under, we had to defend ourselves," said Starr, a four-time race winner in 11 years in the Trucks series.

"I look at the penalty. My first response is it's not really equal to both sides. For a team that didn't initiate or didn't start something, it's not fair. I think they came down harder on myself and our team, and we didn't start anything."

Starr and Bodine disagree about their late contact that moments later led to the brawl. Starr said he claims responsibility for ending Donny Lia's day in a Turn 1 accident in which he was running the inside lane, got into the corner too deep and couldn't slow in time to avoid drifting up into Lia's Randy Moss Motorsports Chevy. He also said his contact with Reutimann was ironed out between the two via text message after the race.

"It's just something that happens. I drove in a little hard one time underneath Terry Cook, and I got a little free and chased it up the track. I got into Terry, but I was able to keep from wrecking him," said Lia, who had a memorable trading-paint battle with Starr during his win in May at the short track in Mansfield, Ohio. "David wasn't the only guy to probably do that, but unfortunately every time he did he took another truck out, so everybody knows about it."

In terms of the contact with Bodine, Starr claims it wasn't his fault.

"I was just holding my line. Being involved in two [previous] incidents getting into Turn 1, I got off the gas early, on the brake early, making sure I didn't get involved in another incident," Starr said. "Todd turned into me. I had a good truck and was moving forward. I think his truck wasn't that good and he was going backwards, and it's one of those deals where he was just trying to protect all he could protect. He put himself in bad situation to cut a truck off, when I just held my line."

Bodine countered: "Anybody that watched the race would see it differently than that. Yeah, I didn't give him a ton of room. Seven laps to go, racing for position, you're not going to give the guy the whole track. I knew he was under there, I gave him a lane, he just made another mistake and drove it in too hard, thinking it was going to stick.

"If it was the first time in the race that it had happened, we'd say, 'Well, we didn't know what was going on,' but that was the fourth time. He hit Rick Crawford, but [Crawford] saved it and didn't wreck. The problem with David is that when he gets a good truck, he drives over his head, and he had a really good truck. That's just typical David."

About the only consensus in the whole mess is that the Germain crew member shouldn't have approached Starr's truck before the driver had a chance to emerge.

"If I pulled down pit road and a crew member from another team was standing at my window, trying to get my window net open, I'm going to protect myself. I'm going to jump out of that thing ready for anything," Lia said. "I don't blame him for what he did. He didn't know if the guy was getting ready to hit him with a jack handle or something. You don't know when you're in the truck and you see someone standing there who's not on your crew."

For as bad as it was, it could have been far worse. And four days later, Las Vegas Motor Speedway general manager Chris Powell even put a funny spin on it, offering a rope for a prerace tug-of-war between Germain Racing and Red Horse Racing.

"We're not into that kind of stuff. Somebody mentioned that to me and I couldn't believe it, that somebody would even offer that," Starr said. "We're ready to put this behind us and we just want to get back to racing. If you do that kind of stuff, you're reliving the past, and that's not something we need to relive."

One final time -- hopefully -- he and Bodine will have to agree to disagree.

"That'd be great TV," Bodine said. "I bet you [Germain Racing] would do it just to have fun."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Las Vegas begins intermediate stretch run

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Hornaday

Ron Hornaday Jr. and the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 33 team will try for three wins in a row Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of four 1.5-mile intermediate ovals in the final seven races.

Of Hornaday's series-leading five wins this year, two were at intermediate ovals Kansas and Texas. Bill Davis Racing's Johnny Benson, the points leader by 74 over Hornaday, won the most recent intermediate-track race at Kentucky Speedway in July.

Neither driver has won at Las Vegas, though Hornaday has the best average finish (8.3) and five top-10s. Nine different drivers have won the past nine races there. Among them, former winners Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine, David Starr, Brendan Gaughan and Ted Musgrave will be in the field Saturday.

Hensley returning to Bill Davis Racing

Three months after being released from Bill Davis Racing and his job as crew chief of Mike Skinner's No. 5 Toyota, Jeff Hensley is returning to the team with a new driver.

Brian Scott's Xpress Motorsports team is moving to BDR full time in 2009 and switching to Toyota starting this weekend at Las Vegas. To get a head start on all that, Bill Davis rehired Hensley, who was released from Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia last month when the team downsized from two Dodge teams to one.

"It was a good opportunity to be able to come back to an organization like that, and come back to running Toyotas, too, you can't go wrong with that," Hensley said. "I didn't want to leave [BDR] to start with, but the way it worked out, I didn't have a lot of options as far as staying here. Maybe they realized that I was a good employee."

Scott, 20, is 19th in points and third in rookie points. He finished a career-best eighth last week at New Hampshire in the No. 16 Chevrolet.

"He's young and looks like he's got some talent. I watched him close at Loudon, he got himself in some situations and was able to not get himself in trouble," Hensley said. "I haven't worked a Toyota since the [NASCAR-mandated] engine restrictions came down, but hopefully what we can bring to the table as a team, as a company, with aerodynamics and different stuff like that can help him be better on the mile-and-a-half tracks like Vegas this weekend."

During his brief tenure at BHR-VA, Hensley served as director of competition and worked two races as Stacy Compton's crew chief.

"I am looking forward to concentrating on, quote-unquote, my team," Hensley said. "You take for granted a lot of times when you're not doing it. I'm looking forward to getting back and focusing on one deal and making it the best I can make it."

Spare parts

Scott Speed will run the final seven races of the season in the Bill Davis Racing No. 22 Toyota. The Red Bull development driver is leading the ARCA points and has five top-10s in nine truck starts, including a win in May at Dover, Del. … John Andretti will drive the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota at Las Vegas, making his first truck start since 2005, when he drove four races for the team. … Former AMA Motocross champion and current Camping World East Series driver Ricky Carmichael is testing a Kevin Harvick Inc. stock car in an ARCA test at Talladega, Ala., this week and racing in the ARCA event on the superspeedway Oct. 3, a possible precursor to truck racing at some point.

Standings