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Melee mars Chevrolet 400

RICHMOND, Va., — Ricky Rudd thought he'd seen just about everything in a long racing career with plenty of beating and banging.

Then he made what must have seemed like a wrong turn into the wrong neighborhood of Richmond International Raceway, finding himself and his car the subject of a moblike confrontation by Kevin Harvick's team.

"I haven't seen anything like that in 28 years of racing," Rudd said of the scene NASCAR officials rebuked as a "bench-clearing mentality."

"It was just totally crazy," Rudd said.

The feud started with less than nine laps to go in the Chevrolet 400, when Rudd was trailing Harvick into the first turn and both were trying to catch Ryan Newman, who was already starting to pull away.

Harvick's car seemed to wiggle a bit, and then Rudd nudged him from behind. Harvick's car was sent slamming into the wall as Rudd raced on. Newman continued, too, going on to his series-best sixth victory of the season.

Harvick, who is third in the points race and running out of races to catch front-running Matt Kenseth, was fuming after the accident denied him a chance to catch Newman and a possible sixth-straight top-five finish.

"I can't help but be angry," he said. "We are running for the championship and I thought we had another second (place) locked up."

Instead, he finished 16th and drove his battered car to pit road, the place where the second- to fifth-place finishers are supposed to be.

Harvick's team members headed there, too, and when the driver banged his Chevrolet into the side of Rudd third-place Ford, the crew members began making like a mob, banging on Rudd's car and mangling the hood.

Rudd admitted he'd hit the back of Harvick's car in the turn, but said Harvick's car was already having trouble and he'd tried to avoid him.

Sitting in his car, Rudd said he still didn't know there was a confrontation starting until he saw Harvick's crew members "walking up and down my car like it's a dadgum runway or something, jumping up and down."

NASCAR officials arrived quickly and broke it up, first imploring the furious Harvick to get off the roof of his own car and stop screaming at Rudd, and then ushering both teams to the trailer for a tongue-lashing.

Later, NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter announced that the governing body would not tolerate the recent tendency toward post-race fisticuffs.

Three weeks ago, Jimmy Spencer was suspended for a week and place on probation after punching Kurt Busch in the face in a similar confrontation.

"I can assure you, we're not going to condone the kind of bench-clearing mentality that occurred after the race tonight," Hunter said, adding that the teams could expect penalties to be announced Monday.

Harvick emerged from the meeting with NASCAR president Mike Helton and Winston Cup director John Darby, saying the episode was over, but that he thought his actions were understandable given the circumstances.

"That was pure adrenaline out there on pit road," he said. "I was hot and I wanted to let Ricky know that. ... Everything's cool now, I guess. I'm just still hot. He never even tried to pass me; he just wrecked me."

Harvick being mad is understandable, Rudd said, "but I think if he sees the tape and figures out what happened, he'll probably cool down a bit. That happens. Close racing, 10 laps to go on a short track, you got a bunch of guys on the lead lap. The race is on. It's a dogfight."

But, he added, what happened after that was "absolutely absurd."