NASCAR took an unprecedented step Saturday morning at Texas Motor Speedway when it parked Kyle Busch for his remaining two races this weekend for "aggressive driving" in Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race.
NASCAR has little history of parking drivers across two series' lines for egregious actions. But a move affecting all three national series has never been made.
The situation was also unique in that on Friday night, Busch was driving for his own Kyle Busch Motorsports team, while earlier Friday Busch qualified Joe Gibbs Racing cars 17th for Sunday's Sprint Cup race and second for Saturday's Nationwide race.
Denny Hamlin was named to drive Busch's Nationwide car and Michael McDowell, the JGR Cup car.
NASCAR president Mike Helton met with the media Saturday for a little more than 10 minutes just after 9:45 a.m. ET and said a group of NASCAR officials had met "15 or 20 minutes ago" in the NASCAR office trailer with Busch and his Sprint Cup and Nationwide series owners, the father-and-son Joe and J.D. Gibbs.
"The responsibility over the past two or three seasons we've given back to the drivers came, I think with a very clear understanding that there could be a line that got crossed," Helton said. "As annoying as the comments that I've made personally in the past about 'we'll know it when we see it' might have been, we saw it [Friday] night. Obviously after the event, a lot of folks put their heads together to decide what, if anything, we would do.
"The volume of occurrences or reactions like I'm talking about, the rarity of those times that we'd make a step like this speak to the uniqueness and the severity of the topic. We understand the ramifications or the ripple effect of us making this type of a move, but we also take our responsibility very serious as to maintaining control of the event in all the garages; so it's a balance there that we ultimately have to make a decision."
The two previous occurrences of cross-series sanctions were in 2002, when Kevin Harvick was parked from a Sunday Cup race at Martinsville Speedway for actions in Saturday's Truck race. In 2007, Robby Gordon was parked for a Sunday Cup race at Pocono Raceway for his actions in Saturday's [Nationwide] event in Montreal.
Saturday, Joe and J.D. Gibbs arrived at the track at about 8 a.m. local time. A team spokesman said, due to the number of team partners based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Gibbs duo was in Texas Friday.
A little less than an hour after Helton's briefing, Joe Gibbs came to the Media Center and didn't have many definitive answers, though he did say "[the responsibility for dealing with Busch] definitely rests with me. I think when you own something you're responsible and that question is easy for me to answer.
"Sometimes in life you have to deal with some real tough things. This is a tough situation for us. Basically, what we're trying to do is go through it the right way. Everybody here with our race team is trying to meet with everybody that was affected by this and obviously we've got a lot of work to do there and a lot of people to see."
Gibbs said he hadn't yet spoken with any of the team's sponsor partners, but added he met with Busch in his driver's motorhome and said it was "one of those personal conversations you have when a real tough situation like this comes up.
"What we're going to try to do now, [as in the past, with other situations involving Busch] we've tried to handle those things the right way and tried to make the right decisions and certainly that's what we're going to try to do with this."
After Gibbs' briefing a team spokesman said Busch was still at the race track but he didn't know if Busch would participate in the conciliatory meetings.
Gibbs said he was unsure if NASCAR would take any additional action against Busch, but "I always trust NASCAR. There's so many things to consider, so many people to meet with, I think that's our main concern this morning [not determining possible internal JGR sanctions for Busch]."
"We'll have to wait and see what Monday morning brings," Helton said of NASCAR's weekly post-event competition meetings. "But right now this deals with the balance of this weekend."
McDowell, who previously has driven Nationwide cars for JGR, practiced Busch's No. 18 car in Saturday's opening Cup practice at and was 33rd on the time sheet and 29th in final practice. Josh Wise, who will start 42nd in the Nationwide O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, practiced McDowell's car in 40th position of the 42 cars that practiced in the first session and was 39th of 43 cars in final practice.
Busch's JGR teammate Hamlin will have to drop from the front row to the rear of the field in that race on the pace laps due to the driver change.
Friday night's incident began when Busch and Truck Series championship contender Ron Hornaday, while racing for second and third positions on Lap 14, made contact in Turns 1 and 2. The caution flew and Busch ran into Hornaday in Turn 3 and then turned Hornaday head-on into the outside wall, ending Hornaday's race and any chance he had at the title.
NASCAR immediately parked Busch and continued that process Saturday morning by invoking Section 9-12 in its rulebook, which states 'A NASCAR Supervisory Official may direct a Competitor to cease competition, to leave the racing premises, or to bring the car to the pit and/or garage area for a specified number of laps, and/or a specified time penalty, for the balance of the Race, or future NASCAR Races, if it is necessary to do so in order to promote the orderly conduct of the NASCAR Event(s). Such a directive will be given only in extraordinary circumstances, as determined by the NASCAR Supervisory Officials. It will not be deemed or construed to be a disqualification, suspension or other "penalty" within the meaning of Section 12 and is not appealable under that Section.'
Helton clarified NASCAR's response in this incident versus others in the past, specifically one in spring 2010 in which Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta and another, in which Busch and Kevin Harvick tangled on the race track and then on pit road post-race at Darlington earlier this year.
"It's natural in our industry and our sport, for NASCAR's regulatory responsibilities, to watch the evolution of a policy or procedure and learn from it and possibly react differently. Although I would remind you in the incident with Carl Edwards and Keselowski in Atlanta, there was a reaction for us. There was points and money involved in that reaction, so there was some sort of reaction.
"There's been a lot of other occurrences that we felt like were more an opportunity to responsibility given to drivers along the way, but there are lines that have been crossed. The 18 [Busch] and 29 [Harvick] in Darlington got a reaction from us. [Saturday at Texas] is the most severe reaction under these circumstances. But we felt like all the circumstances came together to warrant the reaction that we're talking about.
"The question about the accumulation of incidents around the driver leading to this decision-making process -- I won't sit here and tell you that it's not an influence, but it's not an overriding influence. The reaction we're talking about [Saturday] came more specifically from the set of circumstances that unfolded [Friday] night in the single event."