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'KO' Kevin in rare company

With a swing – and apparent near-miss – at Kyle Busch last weekend, Kevin Harvick has joined a list of NASCAR one-punch wonders. This lineup, quite unofficial of course, includes such luminaries as Buddy Baker, Jimmy Spencer and Michael Waltrip, among others. Kyle Petty would have qualified, too, except that his punch was begun, then held back.

Harvick’s attempt at pugilism came shortly after Saturday night's race at Darlington Raceway. Harvick’s frayed feelings resulted from a late-race tangle that caused him to wreck, costing valuable points.

As the surprising and popular winner, Regan Smith, and his team celebrated, Harvick and Busch stopped on pit road.

Harvick emerged from his Chevy, strode purposefully to Busch’s Toyota and aimed a left hook through the driver’s-side window just as Busch started moving his car. Harvick felt – justifiably, it appeared – that Busch had “hooked” him intentionally.

NASCAR has fined both drivers $25,000 and placed them on probation for four races.

It seems to me that “KO” Kevin hardly got his money’s worth. Busch, after all, wisely had kept his helmet firmly on his noggin. So even if Harvick’s hearty left had landed, any bruising to Busch would have been minimal.

It has puzzled me for decades that angry athletes in football, ice hockey and racing swing at rivals who have their heads protected by helmets. Just how much damage and pain do they think they’re going to inflict?

If anyone is to be hurt, it’s probably the puncher, not the punchee.

It’s pretty apparent that in a match of bare knuckles against hard hats, the latter are going to win every time.

But I digress

Strangely, Spencer and Waltrip both took their shots in post-race incidents a few years ago at Michigan International Speedway. Spencer tried to tattoo Kyle Busch’s brother, Kurt. And Waltrip slugged, of all people, the peace-loving Lake Speed.

In both instances, Kurt and Lake were still wearing – you guessed it – their helmets.

Baker’s adversary back in the early 1970s wasn’t so fortunate. This confrontation came well after completion of a major event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The drivers had changed clothes and were preparing to leave the track.

As Big Buddy headed to his street car in the competitors’ parking lot, the rival driver – whose name will be withheld to spare embarrassment after all these years – yelled some fiery words.

The guy, a so-called “independent” who ran only a few races each season, felt that Baker had crowded him on the track unnecessarily.

Buddy took exception and belted the fellow in the eye, knocking him to his knees with one punch.

Two weeks later, the fellow’s blackened blinker still was swollen shut.

He was lucky, in a sense.

Buddy was accompanied that afternoon by his father, Buck, one of NASCAR’s toughest pioneers and a man who seemed to relish going a round or two with his dukes up.

Bystanders – and Buddy – had to hold Buck off the guy.

If Ol’ Buck had gotten to him, a shiner likely would have been the least of the injuries.

The fracas-that-might-have-been involving Kyle Petty also occurred at the Michigan track. The object of Kyle’s ire was – once again, of all people – Alan Kulwicki, definitely a non-combative type when it came to facing off physically.

Late in a 400-miler at the track in the Irish Hills during the 1980s, Kulwicki made a move that angered Petty mightily.

After returning to the garage area following the checkered flag, Petty hurried to Kulwicki’s parking spot. Kyle pinned Alan on his back to a wooden work table.

“I drew back to pop him a good one in the jaw,” Petty recalls. “Then I thought better of it.

“There was just a flash in my mind that he wouldn’t have cut me off on purpose. I’m really glad I didn’t hit Alan, especially after what he said to me the next week.”

Kulwicki, destined to win the 1992 Cup Series championship and then lose his life in a plane crash on April 1, 1993, approached Petty at the track and asked for advice.

“Kyle,” queried Kulwicki, “do you think I need to take karate?”

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