Penske crew member suspended for actions during postrace NASCAR altercation
Dave Nichols was penalized for escalating the confrontation by tackling Denny Hamlin
NASCAR has suspended the tire specialist for Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske in the Monster Energy Cup Series due to his involvement in Sunday’s postrace fracas between his driver and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway.
Dave Nichols Jr. was found in violation of section 12.8.1.C of the 2019 NASCAR Rule Book, a behavioral penalty that concerns “member-to-member confrontation with physical violence.” Nichols will serve that penalty this weekend as the divisions moves on to Texas Motor Speedway.
The ordeal began with an on-track incident between the two drivers with 42 laps remaining in the First Data 500. Logano was pinched into the wall off turn 4 by Hamlin. The contact resulted in damage for Logano, leading to a spin, which eliminated the Team Penske No. 22 from contention.
Even though Logano was able to race back inside the top 10, the two drivers marched toward each other after the race to chat about the incident on pit road.
The conversation was cordial, if somewhat stern, until Logano placed a forceful shove on Hamlin before attempting to walk away. Hamlin raced after his rival but was held back by Penske crew chief Todd Gordon.
Nichols approached Hamlin from behind, giving the driver a horse collar tackle and crew members from both teams piled on.
NASCAR vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell signaled that a penalty was coming on Monday morning during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“We know emotions are going to run high, especially at this time of the season,” O’Donnell said. “We don’t encourage it, but we know the drivers are going to address each other after the race when they have an incident.
“Then, unfortunately, instead of breaking up a fight, I think what we saw was an aggressive move by a crew member. I think in this case, you have a crew member who was maybe trying to break it up, but certainly an aggressive move we viewed on our part.”
This incident follows a similar one in the Xfinity Series last weekend at Kansas in which crew members interjected themselves into a Tyler Reddick-Cole Custer altercation. Crew members in that fight took both drivers down to the ground. NASCAR did not take action in that incident.
Following that decision, O’Donnell stressed that he felt comfortable that crew members were trying to decrease tensions.
“In those situations, the key for us is to make sure that the crew members are not coming in and escalating things,” O’Donnell said. “If anything, we’ve just got to go back and look and make sure that’s not the case from our perspective.
“There’s a lot on the line there for the drivers, and we certainly don’t want to encourage that but understand that it gets heated at times. Our thing is to make sure crew members are not getting in there and piling on a driver, so to speak, versus trying to de-escalate the situation.”
This time, the tackle from behind was seen as offensive and not a de-eseclating one.