Stewart avoids suspension, calls rules stricter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart avoided suspension Wednesday
when NASCAR fined him $50,000 and docked him championship points
for his altercation with Brian Vickers.

Stewart lost 25 points in the driver standings, car owner Joe
Gibbs lost 25 points in the owner standings, and Stewart was also
placed on probation until Aug. 18.

"This action we've taken speaks for itself," NASCAR president
Mike Helton said. "Tony Stewart is well aware of what is expected
of him going forward."

Stewart could have been suspended for Saturday night's race at
Daytona International Speedway for his latest infraction. But
NASCAR declined to park him for a race, which saves the 2002 series
champion's bid for the Nextel Cup championship.

Stewart said he met with NASCAR chairman Brian France to discuss
the matter.

"I understand and accept NASCAR's penalty," he said. "With
NASCAR's continued growth and their rise in mainstream popularity,
I realize their rules have become stricter than they were in the

"And after meeting with Brian France, I know it's my job to
live within those rules."

Vickers was knocked out of Sunday's race in California following
contact from Stewart. After the race, Vickers said Stewart came up
to his car window and confronted him.

Vickers said the two were discussing the on-track contact and
Vickers began to laugh about it. He claimed that Stewart then
reached for him inside the car and "knocked the breath out of

"He hit the armrest and he reached in the car and he grabbed me
in the chest and when he did hit me, it was kind of open palm,"
Vickers said after the race. "My team grabbed him and pulled him
off of me."

Missing a race would have crippled Stewart in his bid for the
cup championship. Under NASCAR's new points system, only the top 10
drivers in the standings and anyone else within 400 points of the
leader will be eligible to race for the title over the final 10
races of the season.

Stewart, who was in fifth place in the standings and 307 points
behind leader Jimmie Johnson, drops to sixth in the standings after
the penalty and is now 332 points back.

Had he been forced to sit out a race, Stewart would have almost
certainly dropped out of the 400-point range to qualify for the
title hunt.

The $50,000 fine NASCAR levied against the hot-tempered Stewart
is not the largest he's received. He was fined a total of $60,000
by both NASCAR and sponsor Home Depot in 2002 for punching a