Ambrose: 'I was just trying to stand up for myself'
May 01, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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CONCORD, N.C. -- If Marcos Ambrose had to do it all over again, he would have done one thing differently.
"I would walk away earlier, before it got out of hand," the Richard Petty Motorsports driver said Thursday, referring to his scrap with Casey Mears after last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway. "I could tell it was getting out of hand, but I just didn't walk away quick enough and get out of that situation. So if I look back at it, I could tell it was not going well … and I should have walked away a lot sooner than I tried to."
As it turned out, the two drivers rumbled in the garage area after the race had ended, with an angry Mears shoving Ambrose into a tool box, and the Australian responding with a roundhouse right that socked the Germain Racing driver squarely in the left temple. NASCAR responded with penalties Wednesday, fining Ambrose $25,000 and Mears $15,000, and placing both drivers on probation through May 28.
Ambrose was on hand Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, at an event where North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory -- who had his own fun with the topic, repeatedly pronouncing "fight" with an Australian accent -- signed a proclamation declaring May to be "Motorsports Month" in the Old North State. Looking back at the previous Saturday night, the two-time winner in NASCAR's premier series said he had no regrets about standing up for himself.
"To be honest with you, once he put his hands on me and started pushing me around, I was just trying to stand up for myself and my country and my family and my reputation. I threw a punch down on him to get him out of the way and let him know that I didn't respect him getting in my private space," Ambrose said.
"As it goes down, if I have my chance to think back about it, a wiser man would have walked away a little bit earlier and not gotten himself in that situation. I don't apologize for my actions. I was standing up for myself and my team and my family, and letting people know that you can't get in my private space like that and expect to not have any consequences."
Since then, Ambrose said he and Mears have spoken "in depth, more than once," and appear to have put the issue behind them.
"I honestly believe we'll enjoy having a beer with one another," Ambrose said. "We have a mutual respect for each other. I like Casey a lot. I didn't have any beef with him after the race. Emotions just got out of hand. I think we both recognize that if we had our time again, it wouldn't happen again. You can't take back what has happened, but I've spoken to him, and I'm not carrying anything forward. He has to decide what he has to do moving forward, but if we find ourselves in a pub sometime, I'd buy him a beer, no problem."
Mears told FOX Sports 1 earlier in the week that the two "had a good conversation, and we'll move on from there." Ambrose said he also received a phone call this week from a crewman who appeared to try and intervene in the scuffle on Mears' behalf, and the RPM driver clarified that he was never struck in the incident.
"I did not get punched. I was able to duck and weave and stay out of trouble," Ambrose said. "I haven't seen the footage, so I don't know whether there was a swing thrown. But there was certainly some aggression at the end there, and I've had a phone call from somebody to apologize for his actions, and that's it for me. I've got no beef with him either. I'm happy to move on and put the week behind us. Certainly not a proud moment of mine, but I certainly don't take back anything that I did. Casey and I spoke about it, and he said if the shoe was on the other foot, he probably would have done the same thing."
Ambrose said he's never faced a similar situation any at point in his career, which includes racing V8 Supercars in his native Australia. He added that he accepted the penalty levied by NASCAR, which his team has said it will not appeal.
"I got myself in a bad situation, didn't I?" he said. "I caused an accident, and NASCAR needed to reprimand, so I'm happy to pay it. Happy to move on. It's a heavy fine. It's the biggest fine I've ever received in racing. But I think NASCAR needed to do something, and whatever they chose to do, I'll pay it."
His team owner, though, was not quite as understanding. "You've got to defend yourself no matter what," Petty said. "But if he knew he was going to be fined $25,000, he might have (taken) another swing at him. As you can see in the tape, (Ambrose) did not initiate any of that. He was trying to get away, so I think from that standpoint, I don't know what (NASCAR's) rationale is. I'll just have to talk to them and see what they come up with."
The entire incident this past Saturday night was "impromptu," Ambrose called it. He said he was walking over to speak with David Gilliland to make sure there were no hard feelings between them over some bumping in the race when Mears intervened. Mears was evidently unhappy over alleged contact from the No. 9 car on a late restart which resulted in a tire rub. "It got out of hand. It got out of control pretty quick," Ambrose said.
"It's a full-contact sport out there," he added. "I'm charged up. I'm full of adrenaline, too. I was actually pretty calm. I think one of the reasons I laid down such a good shot on him was that I wasn't riled up. I was actually fairly lucid in my thoughts, and was able to get a good punch off because I wasn't bound up with too much adrenaline, but adrenaline is just part of what we do. It was an emotional race. A lot of drivers got into each other, and there was a lot of action up and down the grid. I look back at it and it's a beef and an argument between myself and Casey. Unfortunately, it got put on national TV and three and a half million people saw it."
He threw the punch, he said, because he was defending himself. Looking back, Ambrose said he and Mears jawed at one another for more than a minute before things turned physical, and in retrospect he had plenty of time to simply walk away and re-address the matter after heads had cooled.
"I didn't know what was going to happen next," he said. "If he starts pushing me in the toolbox, what happens next? Is he going to try to throw one on me? So I was trying to get out of there, and it wasn't until a few hours later that the adrenaline starts to whoa down and you start to realize what you had done. And then the next day when you have to talk to your kids about it and your wife is mad at you, you realize that walking away would have been a much smarter option."