posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:14 AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - NASCAR officials spent Tuesday discussing what type of punishment to levy against driver Tony Stewart for an altercation with
Brian Vickers after the race at Sears Point."His behavior at Sears Point is unacceptable," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. "Tony has to
work within the same rule structure and behavioral expectations that we have for all of our drivers. One way or the other, we will figure that
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."
Both drivers were summoned to the NASCAR hauler after the race. Vickers has publicly given his side of the story, but Stewart has remained silent. A
spokesman for Stewart said the driver was unavailable for comment. Stewart, whose temper has resulted in repeated run-ins with NASCAR authorities over
the years, could face sanctions ranging from a suspension, monetary fine, deduction of championship points and probation. Jimmy Spencer was suspended
last year for punching Kurt Busch following a race. But in that case, there were audio and video records of the assault. In the current case, NASCAR
has only interviews with Stewart, Vickers and other witnesses to go on.
A suspension also carries more weight in NASCAR's new points system, under which only drivers within 400 points of the leader with 10 races to go are
eligible to compete for the championship. Stewart, the 2002 series champion, is currently in fifth place and 307 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Missing the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway would almost certainly drop him out of the 400-point range with nine races
to go before the title hunt. Stewart's team would be able to race with a substitute driver if he were suspended, but Stewart wouldn't earn any driver
points. All drivers ahead of him in the standings would extend their lead, while those behind him would close the gap or even pass him.
France would not speculate on what punishment Stewart will receive, but indicated it needed to be stiff to get Stewart's attention.
"Just how severe the punishment needs to be to make a point that we are not going to accept that, and punish somebody for what they did, that's
something we are going to have to work through," he said.
Stewart has been in trouble with NASCAR plenty of times before.
He threw his heat shields at Kenny Irwin after a wreck his rookie year, then reached into Irwin's car as it passed by under the ensuing caution flag
and took a swing at him. Stewart also has had a shoving match with Robby Gordon, a shouting match with Jeff Gordon, slapped a reporter's tape recorder
away, charged after a NASCAR official and punched a photographer in 2002 at Indianapolis. Each previous confrontation resulted in fines, and Stewart
has had numerous stints on probation. But he has never been suspended. If NASCAR doesn't suspend Stewart, it could stir speculation that he was
protected by the power of Home Depot, the primary sponsor of his No. 20 Chevrolet and also one of NASCAR's official sponsors.