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Punch Costs Spencer $25,000

NASCAR also bars the driver from Winston Cup and other races this weekend. The driver hit Kurt Busch after Sunday race in Michigan.

August 19, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Spencer might have received a lot of personal satisfaction from smacking fellow NASCAR driver Kurt Busch in the face Sunday, but it is going to cost him $25,000 and a start in this week's Winston Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

The long-simmering feud between the 230-pound Spencer, 46 and a 16-year racing veteran, and the 150-pound Busch, 25 and a third-year driver from Las Vegas, reached a climax after the 400-mile race at Michigan International Speedway when an angry Spencer approached Busch as he sat in his race car and punched him in the nose.

NASCAR President Mike Helton announced Monday that Spencer would be fined $25,000, banned from Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck races this weekend, and put on probation until Dec. 31. Busch, who was hospitalized briefly after the incident, was put on probation until the end of the year.

Spencer, who drives a Dodge for Jim Smith's Ultra Motorsports team, was apparently upset that Busch had bumped him while passing for the lead late in the Michigan 400. According to witnesses, Spencer rammed his car into the rear of Busch's Ford in the garage area after the race was over, then jumped out and hit Busch.

"I was still in my car when [Spencer] approached me in obvious anger," Busch said. "Words were exchanged, but I was still strapped in my seat with my helmet off when he struck me in the face."

Helton, in announcing the penalties, said, "This was a very unfortunate situation. Emotions are a part of every sport, Winston Cup racing included. However, there is a fine line. In this instance, the fine line was crossed."

Jack Roush, Busch's car owner, at first said that his driver's nose had been broken. But later it was learned that it was only bloodied. Busch also had a chipped tooth.

"I have swelling on the left side of my face that is not expected to heal for three months," Busch said in a statement after he'd had a medical examination Monday. "My breathing has been affected, and although it will not affect my ability to race, it will make breathing with a helmet on more uncomfortable."

Spencer, although not discussing his reasons for hitting Busch, said in a statement that he would appeal the suspension.

"I will always protect myself and my race team," his statement said. "We are going to appeal the penalty, and we are going to do so in accordance to the NASCAR rule book."

Roush was as angry about Busch's probation as he was about the incident.

"It is incomprehensible to me that NASCAR used this incident to place Kurt Busch on probation," he said. "His only involvement in the altercation was to be the recipient of a blow struck by an individual that is twice his size. Drivers, as do others in the garage, often exchange heated words, and in my memory no one has ever been penalized for words spoken in private to another.

"We intend to promptly file an appropriate appeal against this penalty, although we have learned that the merits of an argument carry little weight in this particular form of appeal."

There has been tension between Spencer and Busch since Busch's rookie year in 2001. It started at Phoenix, where Busch was running in the top 10 when he was hit by Spencer. Busch finished 22nd and the drivers later had words.

The following year, in the spring race at Bristol, the feud erupted again. Spencer was close to ending an eight-year losing streak when Busch bumped him out of the lead with 45 laps remaining. After the nudge, Busch posted his first Winston Cup victory. Spencer finished second.

Busch then fanned the flames when he said, "Last year he dumps us [at Phoenix] and that was in my mind. I set the stage for it. He was the one who [said] he never forgets, and I never forgot what happened in Phoenix."

Later in 2002, at Indianapolis, there was another incident, in the third turn during the Brickyard 400. Busch had just passed Spencer when Spencer's Dodge touched the left-rear corner of Busch's Ford. Busch's car snapped around, hit the outside wall and was unable to continue.

Busch responded by climbing out of his car and standing in the track to gesture angrily at Spencer as his car circled under the yellow caution flag. He later called Spencer "a decrepit old has-been."

In another development, the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office in Michigan was considering filing criminal charges against Spencer. Sheriff Larry Richardson said investigators were not expected to give their report to prosecutors until today at the earliest.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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