NASCAR doesn't fine Stewart, Busch but may revisit topic next week

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Joe Gibbs' first trip to the racetrack after retiring last month as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins began in the NASCAR hauler with driver Tony Stewart.

The owner of Joe Gibbs Racing joined Stewart and Kurt Busch in a Saturday morning meeting with Sprint Cup series director John Darby to further discuss their altercation during Friday's final practice for the Budweiser Shootout.

No fines were levied (although there could be some next week), but both drivers were told to keep a good distance from each other during Saturday's practice and the exhibition race featuring 2007 pole winners and past Shootout champions.

Gibbs, who has made more than his fair share of trips to NASCAR's version of the principal's office with Stewart, jokingly said this wasn't why he returned to racing.

"I want to come back and win," said Gibbs, who has three Sprint Cup titles, two with Stewart, since 2000. "We'll see what happens. We haven't gotten to the race, yet."

Stewart and Busch, two of NASCAR's most controversial characters, got into a sheet metal exchange on pit road after an on-track incident that wrecked both of their cars halfway through Friday night's practice.

Both drivers immediately were summoned to the NASCAR hauler to meet with Darby and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. The only words spoken publicly by either driver -- both left through a side door without commenting -- came from Busch before entering the hauler.

"It's a great way to start off 2008," he said, clapping his hands together.

Neither driver spoke again immediately after Saturday's meeting as they went to their cars for the first practice for Sunday's qualifying for the Daytona 500. Busch later said he was confused why such an incident would happen in practice.

"Tony and I are competitors, we always have been and we're going to be just fine," he said.

Gibbs said the incident was "just part of the racing world."

"It's just something you deal with," he said. "Anytime you're in sports with the competitive spirit everybody has you run the risk of somebody getting sideways, in more ways than one."

NASCAR will be watching to make sure the drivers don't get sideways again anytime soon.

"We're going to continue to think about it and talk about it and handle it just like any other penalty," NASCAR executive Jim Hunter said. "If there are [penalties], we'll talk about them Monday or Tuesday."

The confrontation began when Stewart tapped Busch from behind, forcing Busch into the wall. Busch felt Stewart caused the accident and retaliated by bumping Stewart's car with his on the way to the pit road entrance.

Stewart felt Busch caused the accident by blocking.

"That was a racing accident, totally," Hunter said. "We looked at it from a bunch of different angles. The two drivers are the only people who really know what happened. When you look at the replays on television it is very inconclusive.

"What they emphasized in the meeting was you two guys better give each other a lot of space."

This wasn't the first time the two have clashed. Busch was fined $100,000 and docked 100 championship points in June after sending Stewart into a barrier at Dover and nearly hitting a member of Stewart's crew making additional contact on pit road.

He also was parked for the remainder of the race.

"Both of them are so competitive," said Hunter, noting any fine likely would be less than what Busch received because there were no crew members on pit road. "Both of them are hardheaded. And both of them want to win. There you have it."

Hunter said what happened showed the fine line between letting drivers be
themselves, which NASCAR chairman Brian France said is a goal for 2008, and crossing the line where safety becomes an issue.

"I don't mean we want things like that to happen on the racetrack," he said. "But we like our guys to be emotional. If they're mad, vent it. Our responsibility is to make sure when they're in those race cars they don't lose their heads for safety reasons."

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