Steve O’Donnell

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NASCAR executive explains Stewart Friesen penalty at ISM Raceway

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Stewart Friesen was the first to take the checkered flag in Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, but it was only after he was penalized for being the first driver to take the green flag at the start of the event.

Friesen, who started second, beat pole-sitter Austin Hill to the start-finish line after it appeared Hill spun his tires.

As a result, Friesen was forced to the rear of the field during a caution that came out on Lap 3.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed why Friesen was penalized Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“At the beginning of the race the leader earns that right with the pole and has to be the car to cross the start-finish line first,” O’Donnell said. “In this case, we can’t make judgments on what may or may not happen to the pole-sitter. When Stewart’s truck beat the pole-sitter to the line, that’s an automatic penalty for us.”

This is the second week in a row O’Donnell has explained NASCAR’s decision-making on a judgment call. Last week, it concerned intentional spins by drivers in the wake of Bubba Wallace’s spin at Texas Motor Speedway, which he was penalized for Saturday morning.

O’Donnell also compared the rule for the initial race start to guidelines for restarts.

“When we have a restart the rule is the leader at that time earns the ability to restart the race and get on the gas so-to-speak first,” O’Donnell said. “But then once the leader does that anything goes and the race is basically started back up again and the line doesn’t come into play.”

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Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to be more active about policing drivers

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PLANO, Texas — Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to tell drivers that there will be a “huge penalty” for intentionally causing a caution after spins the past two weeks in Cup playoff races raised questions about such tactics.

Kyle Larson and his team were upset with Bubba Wallace on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after Wallace had a flat tire and spun. Larson said “Helen Keller could have seen” that Wallace’s spin was intentional and that such actions will continue until NASCAR penalizes drivers. Richard Petty Motorsports tweeted a picture of the flat left rear tire.

Wallace’s spin came during the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Larson’s team was among those that had pitted and caught a lap down. While Larson took the wave around, he could not make up the lost track position in the final 90 laps and finished 12th. He trails Joey Logano by 23 points for the final transfer spot to the championship race heading into the season’s penultimate race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Hamlin has no doubt that Wallace’s act was intentional but doesn’t blame the driver for doing so.

“Bubba’s (spin) this weekend was pretty obvious and obviously it hurt some people and helped others,” Hamlin said Monday morning at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “He’s just following in everyone else’s footsteps. It’s been going on for a long time. Especially this time of the season, it can potentially change a lot of things in the playoffs that it shouldn’t.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Sunday that series officials reviewed Wallace’s spin and determined that it did not warrant a penalty.

Hamlin said officials should make it clear to competitors how significant the penalty for intentionally causing a caution could be.

“At least they need to set out if you do it, then there is going to be a huge penalty,” said Hamlin, who was penalized two laps for stopping on the track to cause a caution in the May 2008 Cup race at Richmond. “At least that will deter you. It won’t stop it, but it will deter you if you know you’re going to get a two-lap, three-lap penalty for intentionally causing a caution. It’s tough for them to police it, but they police a lot of things.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials may have to react.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something, you know, as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the drivers meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

In a rules card given to each crew chief, it states: “Any driver who, in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, intentionally causes or attempts to cause a caution period by stopping or spinning out or any other action will be penalized at NASCAR’s discretion.”

Hamlin also called out Logano’s spin last weekend at Martinsville. Hamlin and Logano had contact and it cut one of Logano’s tires. He spun, bringing out the caution.

“The 22 spun on purpose at Martinsville,” Hamlin said of Logano. “Everyone knows that.”

That spin was cited on Larson’s radio as he and his team vented after Wallace’s spin Sunday.

Logano defended his actions in the Martinsville race.

“I had a flat tire last week,” Logano said Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. “What do you want me to do? I’ll try not to spin out. I’m not that good. I wish I was that good. That would be really good. I was good enough to spin out and not hit anything so that was good.”

Kyle Busch noted that Logano’s spin at Martinsville impacted his race.

“There’s countless times that you could look at guys that cause cautions and brought out cautions purposely,” Busch said Monday at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “It’s frustrating for sure, especially for us at Martinsville, I think, actually the Logano one ruined our day.

“Either (NASCAR is) going to get involved and fix it or it is going to continue on. If guys get flats or whatever, they’re going to spin themselves out to try to draw a caution so they don’t go laps down. I’ve tried not to do that.

“I can look back at Kansas earlier this year, we got a bad tire rub and I knew I had to come to pit road otherwise it was going to go flat and cost ourselves two laps and finish 30th. Could have spun myself out and stayed on the lead lap and probably finished 10th or eighth or ninth or whatever. It’s NASCAR’s job to figure it out.”

NASCAR executive: ‘Judgment call’ on whether a driver spins intentionally

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said ruling whether a driver spins intentionally to bring out a caution during a race is a “judgment call.”

O’Donnell’s comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” came a day after Kyle Larson accused Bubba Wallace of an intentional spin during green flag pit stops in Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something you know as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the driver’s meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

The spin by Wallace, which Richard Petty Motorsports said was a result of his left-rear tire going down, occurred in Turn 2 after Wallace appeared to save his No. 43 Chevy in an initial slide. The car then went into a half-spin on the apron, similar to Joey Logano’s spin last week at Martinsville Speedway, which was also questioned for potentially being intentional.

After Sunday’s race, a NASCAR spokesman told NBCSports.com that Wallace’s spin was reviewed, and officials determined it didn’t warrant a penalty.

Larson and other drivers had pitted just ahead of the yellow caused by Wallace’s spin and had to take a wavearound to get back on the lead lap.

Larson, who finished 12th, observed “Helen Keller could have seen” the spin was intentional.

“It’s B.S.,” Larson said. “I’ve done it. We’ve all done it in those positions, but until NASCAR steps in, and whether it’s a fine or a penalty with points or something, people are still going to do it.

Tony Stewart, co-owner of race winner Kevin Harvick‘s car, shared his thoughts on the situation on Sunday.

“I feel like NASCAR is backed in a corner on scenarios like this,” Stewart said. “There’s so many ball‑and‑strike calls that they’re put in the position of having to make, I think they’ve got to find a way to make it simpler to where it is what it is.

“Bubba wasn’t working for any team, any manufacturer.  He was trying to take care of himself in that scenario.  It could work for you one week. It could work against you the next week.  It’s just part of it.”

Stewart continued: “At what point do you sit there and say enough is enough?  At some point, we’ve got to somewhat adopt the old‑time tradition of ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ It’s just got to be simplified. They shouldn’t have to sit up there and babysit every single thing that everybody does all the time. There’s enough rules and regulations that they have to do to need to be in place, let alone the things that they shouldn’t have to be put in those positions.

“I mean, you can ask 10 different people, they’re going to give you 10 different answers on it.”

NASCAR suspends crew member one race for role in altercation

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NASCAR suspended Team Penske crew member Dave Nichols Jr. one race for his role in an altercation on pit road Sunday between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway.

Nichols, a tire specialist for Logano’s team, can be seen in the video above grabbing Hamlin from behind and throwing him down to the ground.

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Logano’s team, said that Nichols was trying to help separate Logano and Hamlin but did so too forcefully.

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers,” Gordon said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other.

“Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, explained Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio why a penalty might be issued in this case.

“You had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” O’Donnell said. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

The issue started after Logano hit the wall while running side-by-side with Hamlin late in Sunday’s race. Logano went to Hamlin to discuss the incident after the race and punctuated his conversation by shoving Hamlin and walking away, triggering the scuffle.

NASCAR met with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Gordon and Nichols after the race.

NASCAR hints at penalty for crew member who tossed Denny Hamlin to ground

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A NASCAR official hinted Monday that a penalty could be coming as early as today to the crew member who yanked Denny Hamlin to the ground during a confrontation between Hamlin and Joey Logano after Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR met after the race with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, and the unnamed Team Penske crew member who threw down Hamlin.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed the issue on “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

“As we always say, we know emotions are going to run high, especially at this time of the season,” O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The drivers, we don’t encourage it, but we know that they’re going to address each other after the race when they have an incident and you saw that happen.

“Then, unfortunately, instead of kind of breaking up a fight, I think what we saw was an aggressive move by a crew member, so we called the team into the hauler, including Todd Gordon. … I think in this case, you’ve got a crew member who was maybe trying to break it up but certainly an aggressive move that we viewed on our part and unfortunately we’ll probably have to take some action to address that later today or tomorrow.”

Gordon discussed what happened after the race Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and took some responsibility for the incident.

“I probably take some of the ownership myself to start with,” Gordon said. “Stopped Joey when he got out of the car and he’s frustrated. He got run up in the wall with 50 to go and was frustrated about it and justifiably so. I went back and rewatched it. He pretty much got put in the wall on a straightaway. There’s frustration with that.

“Stopped Joey at the car and said we just don’t need to handle that right now and let his emotions get down, and I thought they were at a point where he could go talk. Unfortunately, in the conversation there got to be a push (from Logano).

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers. We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. We’ve had the conversation internally, we want situations diffused and separated. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.

“See what NASCAR does that and where it goes. There weren’t any punches or anything pulled. Denny got pulled out there and got pulled down pretty hard. Apologized to Denny for that and how that was handled. Ultimately, I’ll put that one back on me to start with. I shouldn’t have let Joey down there to start with. I probably made a poor decision in letting him go down and talk. A little bit of that is on me and we’ll work forward from that. Understand Joey’s frustration. I think it’s genuine. What started the whole situation was what happened on the race track.  We can talk about what happens in short track racing and all, 50 to go to get pushed up into the wall side-by-side it’s going to frustrate you. I think if the roles were revered it’s probably frustrating as much the other way. … We’ll see what NASCAR does and we’ll adapt to whatever comes forward.”

This is the second consecutive weekend where drivers scuffled on pit road and crew members were involved. It happened after the Kansas Xfinity race the week before. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick scuffled and crew members converged. NASCAR issued no penalties.

“I think if you go back to Kansas, we spent a lot of time reviewing that video and in our mind, always a judgment call but different incident,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We didn’t see anybody really trying to escalate the situation.

“I think in this case (at Martinsville), you had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move. We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

Asked what kind of message NASCAR can send to crews about jumping into confrontations between drivers, O’Donnell said:

“I think we have. I think we’ve been consistent in our reaction and will be consistent here. This is a team sport and with any team sport, I think you’re going to take care of your quarterback so to speak and you see that.

“What we can do is when we need to do address this with a penalty we will. When we see drivers, or in this case, crew members in Kansas trying to break something up, we won’t react. It’s case-by-case, but it’s a passionate sport and there’s a lot on the line and sometimes emotions go a little too far and we’ve got to react.”