AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Daniel Suarez threw Michael McDowell to the ground and both drivers had to be forcibly restrained Friday after they were eliminated while jockeying for position in the first round of qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series race at ISM Raceway.
Just about everybody waited until the last couple minutes of the 10-minute qualifying session before exiting pit road, creating chaos on the mile-long track. Suarez and McDowell kept getting in the way of each other, and they ultimately ruined each other’s qualifying attempts.
After they got out of their cars, Suarez hopped a concrete wall and exchanged words with McDowell before spinning him to the ground — McDowell never even removed his helmet.
It took several crew members to finally pull them apart.
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“You always have respect for the other drivers, especially here in Phoenix when we all know that the second lap is a good one,” Suarez said. “I was opening my second lap and he was in my way in corner one and two. I assumed he was going to get out of my way in corner three and four and he didn’t.
“He was in my way for the entire second lap,” Suarez said, “and then he messed up my opening for the third lap, so he pretty much messed up the whole qualifying.”
Naturally, McDowell saw things unfold differently.
“Just miscommunication on the track,” said McDowell, an Arizona native racing at his home track. “We all waited until the end and we just had a lot of traffic. He was upset that we held him up on his good lap and then he tried to crash us and I didn’t appreciate it.”
The throw-down in the garage area didn’t quite reach the same level as Jeff Gordon’s memorable brawl with Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in 2012. But it still colored an otherwise quiet qualifying session.
“I understand why Daniel is upset. I’d be upset too. I definitely messed up his lap,” McDowell said, “but then he tried to crash us. When he came over I wasn’t that excited about him trying to crash us on the race track. I made a mistake, an honest mistake, but trying to crash somebody is a different story. That’s all. It’s just racing.”
McDowell later joked that he and Suarez were at a hockey game Thursday night and not to read too much into the fight. McDowell will start 27th and Suarez 28th on Sunday.
“I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on,” Brad Keselowski said of the dust-up. “That’s the way the format is designed. You’ve got one of the (Xfinity) cars out there that blew up at the end of practice and oiled it all down, so nobody wanted to get on the track too soon.”
Tensions were already high when teams arrived in Phoenix, none of them quite sure what to expect with NASCAR’s new rules package allowing for more horsepower and additional downforce. But all of them expect passing to be difficult, and that made qualifying more important than usual.
“I’m obviously mad because track position is the situation in racing today,” Suarez said. “I don’t really care about starting in the front or the back, but what is very important is the pit stall selection, which we’re going to be bad, but I have a very strong race car. We showed that in practice and we’re going be able to overcome that tomorrow.”
Full AP NASCAR coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NASCAR