By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
FORT WORTH, Texas - In the most aggressive penalty of the so-called "Boys, have at it" era, NASCAR parked Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch for Saturday's Nationwide Series and Sunday's Sprint Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing team owner Joe Gibbs and team president J.D. Gibbs met with NASCAR officials before Saturday's first practice session for the AAA Texas 500 Cup race.
The subject of the meeting was Busch's retaliation against Ron Hornaday Jr. in Friday night's WinStar World Casino 350K, during which Busch caused a wreck that, in NASCAR's estimation, went beyond the boundaries of the sanctioning body's customary laissez-faire attitude toward competition on the track. After the meeting, Busch left the NASCAR transporter and headed for his motor home.
Joe Gibbs announced Saturday morning that Denny Hamlin would drive the No. 18 JGR Toyota in Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Nationwide race and that Michael McDowell would replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota in Sunday's Cup race.
McDowell has four top 10s in five starts in JGR's No. 18 Nationwide car this season, with his best finish a third at Montreal.
"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," NASCAR president Mike Helton said Saturday morning after announcing Busch's punishment. "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 last night."
What NASCAR saw, and what made NASCAR react so severely, was an incident on Lap 14 of Friday night's race at Texas that began with Busch and championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. racing side by side through Turns 1 and 2.
Hornaday moved up the track to avoid the slow car of Johnny Chapman, forcing Busch to the outside as both drivers stayed in the gas. Hornaday's No. 33 Chevrolet slipped and brushed Busch's No. 18 Toyota. Both trucks scraped the outside wall.
With the field under caution, Busch chased Hornaday down the backstretch and into Turns 3 and 4, where Busch turned Hornaday hard into the wall. The accident ended Hornaday's chances for a fifth series championship.
Helton said Hornaday's status as a title contender wasn't the overriding factor in the decision to park Busch.
"The implication of the 33 truck being in the points battle probably had a small impact on the reaction," Helton said. "But I think the bulk of the action in its entirety-all the circumstances attached to it-just accumulated to the decision we made."
Busch was fined $25,000 and placed on probation earlier this season for a postrace altercation with fellow Cup driver Kevin Harvick, who also is Hornaday's truck owner. Harvick, who coincidentally was parked for a Cup race at Martinsville in 2002 after an altercation with Coy Gibbs (Joe Gibbs' son), also drew a $25,000 fine and probation for the incident at Darlington in May.
The last driver parked for a Cup race was Robby Gordon, who ignored a black flag in a Nationwide race at Montreal in 2007 and was suspended for the Cup race at Pocono the following day. Though NASCAR hasn't taken such stringent action since vice president of competition Robin Pemberton coined the phrase "Boys, have at it, and have a good time," in January 2010, Joe Gibbs didn't argue with the severity of the penalty.
"I always trust NASCAR," Gibbs said. "I think they do a great job. They manage the series. It's grown because of them and the way they handle it. I have great faith in the decisions they make. We've been a part of this for a long time, and we love it. We love being a part of it, and we love this sport.
"This was a tough one for us, but as I mentioned, sometimes in life you go through tough things. You don't like it, but we're certainly going to try and work our way through this one and do the right thing and try and handle it the right way."
Gibbs now must deal with the fallout from the incident, and that means talks with Cup sponsor Mars and Nationwide sponsor Z-Line Designs, as well as other JGR partners.
"I met with Kyle in his motor home this morning," Gibbs said. "It's one of those personal conversations you have when a real tough situation like this comes up. I think, for all of our other partners involved with this-and there's a number of them-we haven't even had a chance to get with everybody yet.
"So we're still trying to go through that as best we can. We'll be here the whole weekend trying to meet with everybody, trying to work our way through this and trying to handle it the right way."
Reaction in the garage was consistently supportive of NASCAR's decision. In fact, the lobbying had started the night before. Two-time truck series champion Todd Bodine advocated parking Busch, as did Hornaday, who met with NASCAR officials after Busch left the sanctioning body's hauler Friday night.
Harvick, who won Friday's race in his No. 2 truck, posted on Twitter later that evening, "Great night for the 2 truck!! Just watched the race replay and saw what I already knew @kylebusch is a (expletive)." Several minutes later, Harvick wrote, "Pressure is on @NASCAR now to handle this crap before someone gets hurt ... we aren't racing late models."
Seventh in the Chase standings and 57 points behind leader Carl Edwards with three races left, Busch already is an extreme long shot for the Cup title. Missing the Texas race also may cost him a seat at the Dec. 2 Cup awards banquet in Las Vegas, where only the top 10 of the 12 Chase drivers are recognized.