Stewart avoids suspension, calls rules stricter

Updated: July 1, 2004, 12:26 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart avoided suspension Wednesday when NASCAR fined him $50,000 and docked him championship points for his altercation with Brian Vickers.

Tony Stewart
Stewart

Stewart lost 25 points in the driver standings, car owner Joe Gibbs lost 25 points in the owner standings, and Stewart was also placed on probation until Aug. 18.

"This action we've taken speaks for itself," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "Tony Stewart is well aware of what is expected of him going forward."

Stewart could have been suspended for Saturday night's race at Daytona International Speedway for his latest infraction. But NASCAR declined to park him for a race, which saves the 2002 series champion's bid for the Nextel Cup championship.

Stewart said he met with NASCAR chairman Brian France to discuss the matter.

"I understand and accept NASCAR's penalty," he said. "With NASCAR's continued growth and their rise in mainstream popularity, I realize their rules have become stricter than they were in the past.

"And after meeting with Brian France, I know it's my job to live within those rules."

Vickers was knocked out of Sunday's race in California following contact from Stewart. After the race, Vickers said Stewart came up to his car window and confronted him.

Vickers said the two were discussing the on-track contact and Vickers began to laugh about it. He claimed that Stewart then reached for him inside the car and "knocked the breath out of me."

"He hit the armrest and he reached in the car and he grabbed me in the chest and when he did hit me, it was kind of open palm," Vickers said after the race. "My team grabbed him and pulled him off of me."

Missing a race would have crippled Stewart in his bid for the cup championship. Under NASCAR's new points system, only the top 10 drivers in the standings and anyone else within 400 points of the leader will be eligible to race for the title over the final 10 races of the season.

I understand and accept NASCAR's penalty. With NASCAR's continued growth and their rise in mainstream popularity, I realize their rules have become stricter than they were in the past.
Tony Stewart

Stewart, who was in fifth place in the standings and 307 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, drops to sixth in the standings after the penalty and is now 332 points back.

Had he been forced to sit out a race, Stewart would have almost certainly dropped out of the 400-point range to qualify for the title hunt.

The $50,000 fine NASCAR levied against the hot-tempered Stewart is not the largest he's received. He was fined a total of $60,000 by both NASCAR and sponsor Home Depot in 2002 for punching a photographer.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE