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.
“Just like a respect (thing),” Suarez said. “Track position is very big in this race these days and you have to qualify well to have a good stall on pit road. … You have to try to get out of the way if someone is coming with a hot lap. He just didn’t.”
Naturally, McDowell saw things unfold differently.
“Just miscommunication on the track,” said McDowell, an Arizona native who considers Phoenix 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.
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 25th on Sunday and Suarez 28th.
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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.
“Shorter practice session, shorter qualifying,” McDowell said. “Intensity ramps up.”