Placing Stewart, Busch on probation -- without fines -- the fair thing to do

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR got this one right.

Putting Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch on probation for six races for their confrontation in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout and not penalizing them and their Sprint Cup team points or money was the only fair thing to do.

It was a slap on the wrist, and a slap is all that was necessary.

The incident happened during practice for a non-points event. It happened with no crew members on pit road, so neither driver put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint.

This wasn't like last year's race at Dover, when Busch was fined $100,000 and 100 championship points for pulling beside Stewart's car on pit road. That put one of Stewart's crew members in danger in the heat of competition.

This incident was no more than a brawl between kids on the playground, not much worse than Ashley Judd wearing a dress on pit road during Sunday's qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Stewart bumped Busch, causing Busch to spin out and wreck his car for the Shootout. Busch retaliated by bumping Stewart's car on the way to pit road. Stewart blocked Busch's path to the garage.

It made for good television, but that's it.

Nobody was hurt.

Drivers were just showing their personalities the way NASCAR chairman Brian France suggested they do when he kicked off the 2008 media tour in Charlotte, N.C.

This is not to suggest NASCAR encourages using cars as battering rams. It doesn't, and officials made that point perfectly clear to both drivers during meetings inside the NASCAR hauler on Friday night and Saturday morning.

And yes, the penalty was confined to what happened on the track. It had nothing to do with the punch Stewart took, sources told ESPN.com, at Busch in the hauler in front officials on Friday.

If NASCAR were going to fine Stewart for that they would have had to fine Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya for their shoving incident on the track at Watkins Glen last season.

They got that one right, too.

NASCAR wants its drivers to show emotion. The governing body doesn't want the sterile atmosphere that it helped create over the past few years with heavy fines and points penalties.

So giving Stewart and Busch a slap on the wrist was the right thing to do.

It also let two of NASCAR's biggest characters know they can't cross the line again or the penalty will be stiffer.

Stay tuned.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.