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Probation, fine added for Harvick

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2002

NASCAR doled out one of the harshest penalties in its 54-year history Sunday when it "parked" young star Kevin Harvick for the Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway for rough driving.

But it wasn't finished.

Harvick has been fined $35,000 and will be on probation through Dec. 31 "for his actions this past weekend" at Martinsville, NASCAR officials announced Monday.

The sanctioning body also put Harvick on notice that if, during the probationary period, there are any actions "deemed detrimental to the sport or disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event, he will be suspended indefinitely."

"When fines and probations obviously don't mean anything, you have to find a way to get the message across," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of communications. "NASCAR pulled one out the hat that had not been used before."

Harvick and team owner Richard Childress plan to issue a statement today.

Never before had NASCAR parked a Winston Cup driver for crumpling sheet metal, not even the man who used to drive Harvick's cars, the late Dale Earnhardt.

Not even Jimmy Spencer.

So why Harvick?

It has as much to do with obstinacy as Coy Gibbs' spinning truck. Harvick and Gibbs traded paint by the gallon Saturday in the Advance Auto Parts 250 race until, finally, Harvick punted Gibbs after a restart.

The problem was Harvick had been warned. He had been fined. He had been put on probation through Aug. 28 for confronting Greg Biffle after a Busch Grand National race last month at Bristol.

Yet, he remained defiant.

When Harvick, 26, was black flagged Saturday and summoned to the officials' trailer, he mocked those officials by parking within feet of the trailer. He was disrespectful.

So, like a parent with a problem child, NASCAR decided to teach Harvick a lesson he would not forget. Though his indiscretions came mostly in the minor-league BGN and truck series, NASCAR hit Harvick where it hurt -- in Winston Cup.

It was extremely harsh.

That was the point.

"We have to maintain law and order," NASCAR chairman Bill France said Sunday. "We think we wear our guns pretty tight. If Saturday's actions had been ignored, we'd look like a paper tiger."

Harvick got the claws.

His peers got a chuckle.

"He's lost the respect of a lot of people just from his childish behavior," 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm perfect by any means and that I haven't made mistakes and I haven't lost my temper, but hell, he loses his every week."

BROTHERLY LOVE: No one was more excited when Terry Labonte led a lap for the first time since Oct. 15, 2000, than his younger brother, Virginia 500 winner Bobby Labonte.

Terry led twice for 11 laps.

"I was back there in eighth place cheering him on on the radio, "Go Texas Terry,' " Bobby said. "It's cool to see him do that because it's been a long time since he's had a car that handled good, which gives you confidence to run fast."

Terry finished sixth, his second consecutive top 10.

UNDER CONTROL: NASCAR president Mike Helton issued a warning during Sunday's drivers' meeting to anyone who might be using illegal traction control devices. Such boxes, which plug into the ignition, allow drivers to stay in the gas because they keep wheels from spinning.

OBITUARY: Two-time Winston Cup champion Buck Baker died Monday at 83. Baker is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

He won 46 races, 13th all-time, and was the series' first back-to-back champion in 1956-57. His son, Buddy Baker, a racing analyst on TNN, won 19 career races.

-- Times wires contributed to this report.

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