Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Spencer suspended for punching Kurt Busch

By Mike Harris
The Associated Press

Jimmy Spencer was suspended Monday from all NASCAR-sanctioned competition until Aug. 26 for punching Kurt Busch in the garage at Michigan International Speedway.

Spencer also was fined $25,000 and placed on probation through the end of the year.

Busch, who suffered a bloodied nose and chipped tooth, was put on probation until Dec. 31.

"This was a very unfortunate situation," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "Emotions are a part of every sport, NASCAR Winston Cup racing included. However there is a fine line. In this instance, that fine line was crossed."

Spencer could still face criminal charges. Lenawee County (Mich.) Sheriff Larry Richardson said Monday that investigators wouldn't turn over their report to prosecutors until at least Tuesday.

Spencer will miss the Truck series, Busch series and Winston Cup races this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway - the site of one of the first flare-ups in Spencer and Busch's long-running feud.

Spencer said he would appeal the suspension, but gave little indication as to what provoked him to hit Busch.

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

Busch, who had surgery last year to correct a deviated septum, was examined in North Carolina on Monday and said doctors told him the swelling to the left side of his face will take three months to heal.

Busch also said he suffered tissue damage and there is a slight chance he will need reconstructive surgery to correct the damage.

"I appreciate that NASCAR has recognized that Jimmy's assault went beyond the level of a 'racing incident,' " Busch said. "Our racing Sunday was hard and clean.

"NASCAR's fine and suspension demonstrate and acknowledge for me their agreement that this was a unilateral assault which required serious punishment and for that I thank NASCAR."

Jack Roush, Busch's car owner, was furious his driver was placed on probation.

"It is incomprehensible to me that NASCAR used this incident to place Kurt Busch on probation," Roush said. "His only involvement in the 'altercation' was to be the recipient of a blow struck by an individual that is twice his size."

The latest fight came Sunday when the two made contact late in the GFS Marketplace 400 as Busch attempted to pass Spencer. After the event, Busch said his car ran out of gas near Spencer's hauler in the garage area.

Witnesses said Spencer pulled in and hit Busch's car from behind. He then reportedly jumped from his car, approached Busch's window and punched the driver in the face.

Spencer, a 15-year veteran, and Busch have had a strained relationship since Busch broke into Winston Cup in 2001. They made contact at a race in Phoenix during Busch's rookie season that both drivers complained about, then ran into each other again last year at Bristol when Busch bumped Spencer out of his way for his first career victory.

At Indianapolis last July, Spencer wrecked Busch early in the race and Busch responded with a series of gestures before walking off the track.

He later called Spencer a "decrepit old has-been."

NASCAR sat both drivers down after the Indianapolis race and the tension between them seemed to subside until Sunday.

Suspensions are a rarity in NASCAR. It's not clear when the last driver was suspended, but Kevin Harvick was "parked" for one Winston Cup race in April 2002 for rough driving in a Truck Series event.

Ricky Rudd and his former engine builder were fined a combined $15,000 and put on probation for fighting in the garage area last year.

Crew chiefs have been suspended before for rules violations, and a Busch series driver and Trucks series driver were suspended indefinitely for drug-related problems.

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