There’s sort of an unwritten rule in NASCAR when it comes to driver confrontations.
Usually, when two drivers get out of their stock cars to have a heated discussion, it’s understood that they should both remove their helmets. One, it removes a barrier and creates a better face-to-face scenario. Two, it puts both drivers on the same playing field, just in case the fists start flying.
Now, some folks might argue that it’s smart for a driver to leave their helmet on during a scrap. They might pose the question, “Why purposely expose your head to blows and also miss out on the chance to injure the other guy’s punching hand?” That’s a perfectly valid take, but also know that if you’re a driver who acts on that logic, you’re probably going to expose yourself to incessant roasting by fans and even potentially fellow drivers in the aftermath.
Historically, NASCAR drivers who have faced off in a post-race scrap have done so sans helmet. But, every once and a while, a driver will conveniently forget. Here, we’ll look at four of those instances.
Ty Gibbs vs. Sam Mayer
For the most recent violation of NASCAR’s unwritten rule, we head to Martinsville Speedway for the Xfinity Series race on April 8.
Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing driver and grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, was in the lead to start the second overtime in the race, when he and JR Motorsports driver Sam Mayer collided. After hitting the wall, Gibbs ultimately finished eighth.
Frustrated over not getting his fourth win of the year, Gibbs tailgated Mayer coming into pit road. Both drivers exited their cars and confronted each other for a heated discussion — Gibbs with his helmet on, Mayer without — and, well, you saw how the rest played out.
Gibbs later explained why he ended up punching Mayer in the post-race interview.
“I talked to Sam. I was frustrated. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ when we got drove in the fence. We were kind of shoved a little bit and I turned away,” Gibbs said.
“When I got grabbed and kind of pulled, that just led up to that moment. It just built up, built up, built up and I snapped and that’s just part of it. Hopefully, I learn from it.”
Yep, hopefully next time you take off that helmet, bud!
Clint Bowyer vs. Ryan Newman
Chase Elliott’s big win at the 2019 All-Star Race was slightly overshadowed by a beyond pissed-off Clint Bowyer rushing over to Ryan Newman’s car and throwing bombs at the Roush Fenway Racing driver while he was still in his car.
Remember when I said earlier that leaving on that helmet during a fight could potentially get you roasted by fellow drivers? Well, those “fellow drivers” always include three-time Cup Series champ Tony Stewart.
“These kids leave their helmets on to fight,” Stewart said in a later interview. “Men take their helmets off, and they fight. If you’re gonna fight, fight.”
It’s hilarious that Stewart would refer to the then 39-year-old Bowyer as a “kid,” but it was all just a good-natured ribbing, as Stewart later admitted to texting Bowyer what he thought about the whole thing.
“The first thing I did was text Clint,” Stewart said. “I said, ‘Listen.’ I said, ‘Take your helmet off if you’re going to get in a fight for Pete’s sakes. And he goes, ‘I didn’t have time.'”
To be fair, Newman also had his helmet on, so it’s not like there was any sort of unfair advantage. In fact, Bowyer probably did more damage to his hand than anything else. Even still, Newman later went after Bowyer for letting his temper get the better of him.
“Doesn’t take much of a man to try to fight somebody with a helmet on,” Newman said. “I think he should be embarrassed of himself.”
Michael McDowell vs. Daniel Suarez
Every driver wants to put up a solid qualifying performance ahead of race day. That starting position can really make or break you on the track. Back in 2019, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez’s frustrating qualifying performance for the Cup race at ISM Raceway led to one serious melee.
After qualifying, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver decided to confront Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell over the way that McDowell was aggressively jockeying for track position. Suarez went over to talk things out, but McDowell decided to escalate things with the immediate throat grab and shove.
Cut to a whirlwind scenario where Suarez throws McDowell to the ground and Suarez is immediately pinned to the car by McDowell’s crew. It was a wild scene.
In the post-race interview, Jamie Little asked if McDowell if he kept his helmet on because he knew that a fight was coming.
“I always have my helmet (on) when I get in and out,” McDowell said. “It’s just an old habit.”
As far as how NASCAR leadership viewed the incident, NASCAR President Steve Phelps seemed to praise the heated altercation in a later interview.
“Seeing the passion and the emotion, that’s what our fans want to see,” Phelps said. “They want that intensity. They don’t want vanilla. The raw emotion is great.”
I think NASCAR fans prefer to see exciting racing on the track, but sure, I guess an impromptu pit road judo match works, too.
Chase Elliott vs. Kevin Harvick
We all remember the Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick feud from 2021. Well, it all started after the September night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The young superstar and the 20-year vet were running a tight race towards the end when Elliott was forced to pit following contact from Harvick. The four-time Most Popular Driver later chased Harvick down and returned the contact, impeding the 2014 Cup champ and allowing Kyle Larson, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports team, to cross the finish line first.
After pitting, Harvick and Elliott had a little chat, offset by a couple fingers in the face and some light shoving. I’m sure Harvick had plenty of good points to make, but there was just one problem.
“I couldn?t hear him,” Elliott said after the scuffle. “He had his helmet on and stuff. I’m 25 and I at least took my helmet off to have a conversation with him and he’s 40-however years old. Nothing new.”
As it turns out, right after his run-in with Elliott, Harvick took off his helmet and slammed it on his car. I guess, for Harvick, when it comes to taking off the ol’ helmet, it’s all about picking the right moment.