Don’t be surprised if Johnny Sauter gets suspended by NASCAR in the next few days.
Sauter crashed Austin Hill under caution during Sunday’s Truck Series race at Iowa in retaliation for an incident that had happened moments before. Hill, apparently unhappy with a nudge Sauter had given him previously, bumped Sauter hard enough to turn him around in turns 3 and 4 and into the wall to bring out the yellow.
Sauter then drove his damaged truck back toward Hill and crashed him.
NASCAR parked Sauter after the retaliatory crash. And he’ll likely face more punishment after that.
Others have been suspended for similar incidents
Kyle Busch was suspended from the Xfinity Series and Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2011 after he crashed Ron Hornaday under yellow during a Truck Series race that same weekend.
And Matt Kenseth was suspended for two races in 2015 after he purposely crashed Joey Logano at Martinsville. While that incident didn’t happen under caution, NASCAR clearly was unhappy with a laps-down Kenseth getting retaliation on Logano, a driver who was leading the race at the time.
While both of those incidents happened as the season was winding down and there were serious championship implications, they should set a precedent that NASCAR needs to follow with disciplining Sauter. It can’t let him get away with purposely crashing a driver under yellow.
The Sauter penalty conundrum
But there’s a conundrum for NASCAR too. Truck Series drivers who have won a race, are in the top 20 in the points standings and have attempted to qualify for every race are eligible for the playoffs. And Sauter has already won in 2019.
A one- or two-race suspension would eliminate Sauter from title contention by preventing him from attempting to qualify for every race. Is a suspension and a playoff ban too harsh? There’s certainly a case that can be made.
But a suspension and a waiver to make the playoffs is too lenient as well (NASCAR has done that before, just ask Kurt Busch). Sauter will easily finish in the top 20 in the points standings even if he misses two or three races. Since he’s won a race already and doesn’t have to worry about the points, a suspension with continued playoff eligibility is a toothless penalty.
Maybe the happy medium is a loss of playoff points that Sauter has already accrued even though they have nothing to do with the incident at Iowa. But whatever NASCAR does, it has to send the consistent message that crashing another driver under caution isn’t OK. Simply parking a driver with a damaged truck isn’t enough.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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