DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Nothing like a push, a shove, some heated words and a little bloodshed to liven things up at Daytona.
Racing and wrestling came together for one explosive moment Wednesday when Winston Cup drivers Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon got into a shoving match after an accident in Daytona 500 practice.
Stewart tapped the left rear of Gordon's car as Gordon was trying to pass him in the backstretch on the 2'-mile oval. The contact forced Gordon to spin out and head to the garage with damage to the front fender, the left rear and in the drive line.
Then, the Main Event.
Upset because he felt Stewart didn't allow him to complete his pass, Gordon stormed into Stewart's garage.
"I said, `Hey, can you give me a little room, it's only practice,"' Gordon said. "He told me, `Get out of here until you learn how to race Winston Cup."'
Gordon, whose main experience is in open-wheel racing, started to walk away. Then Stewart, last year's Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, shoved him.
Gordon turned to retaliate, but five or six members of Stewart's crew intervened. In trying to break up the fight, one of the crew members swiped Gordon's face, leaving a bloody cut near his mouth.
The 30-second scuffle made for a day's worth of lively conversation and speculation.
"I'm not inside his mind," Stewart said. "Obviously, he made a mistake. Nobody wants to crash a race car in the last practice before the 125."
Gordon and Stewart are entered in the first Gatorade 125 today, one of two qualifying races that determine the starting order for the Daytona 500. Stewart will start in the eighth position, with Gordon four rows behind him.
NASCAR officials said they were investigating the fight to determine whether the drivers would be fined.
Gordon had one of the 10 fastest cars in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. His crew chief, Fred Graves, said he didn't think the damage to the Ford would be a problem.
Gordon said he hasn't had other run-ins with Stewart, who also is a former open-wheel racer. In earlier years, the two competed at the Indianapolis 500.
"He's a great race-car driver," Gordon said. "He hangs it out. He has a lot of car control and he knows how to win races, so I have a lot of respect for him."
Stewart said he did everything he could to avoid the accident, but Gordon kept pushing him lower and lower on the track as he tried to complete his pass.
Stewart thinks Gordon should have talked about the fender-bender with his own spotter before rushing into his garage.
Still, his biggest complaint was the loss of practice time.
"I don't think he would have kept coming down there if he didn't think he was clear" to pass, Stewart said. "Now, it's a setback for both of us. It costs us both time on the track."
Dale Earnhardt, the defending champ in the International Race of Champion Series, will start from the pole on Friday in the opening race of the IROC season.
Earnhardt won three of four races in the all-star series last year on the way to his third IROC title. He has 10 race wins, trailing career series leader Al Unser Jr. by one.
"Last year, I played it a little patient here and waited until the right time at the end," said Earnhardt, who led only the final lap of the 40-lap, 100-mile race at Daytona International Speedway. "Hopefully, we can get it done again this year."
Unser, a longtime open-wheel star, is not driving in the series this year.
With the CART drivers unable to compete because of a schedule conflict, the IROC field is comprised of nine NASCAR drivers and three from the Indy Racing League.
Stewart, the top 1999 Winston Cup rookie, will start alongside Earnhardt in the front row on Friday, with two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion and Winston Cup rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. third.
The IRL's Eddie Cheever will start fourth, followed by Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon, defending IRL champion Greg Ray and fellow IRL racer Mark Dismore.
Four-time IROC champion Mark Martin will start ninth, with the lineup completed by fellow NASCAR stars Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Rusty Wallace.
The starting spots were determined Wednesday in a draw.
First-year race driver Dave Blaney had a setback in the final practice for today's 125-mile qualifying races.
Blaney, moving up from the Busch Series, damaged his Pontiac in a crash on the 2'-mile Daytona oval.
"Everybody got in a big pile and slowed up," Blaney said. "We were trying to dodge to miss each other and I got together with another guy."
Team owner Bill Davis, who also fields a car for Ward Burton, said Blaney's Pontiac would be repaired in time for his qualifying race.
Joe Nemechek's speed in Busch Grand National qualifying seemed too good to be true. NASCAR officials decided it was.
So, "Front Row Joe" will have to start from way back Saturday in the season-opening NAPA Auto Parts 300 -- if he starts at all.
Nemechek drove his Chevrolet around Daytona's 2'-mile oval at 189.255 mph, an eye-popping 1.9 mph faster than second-place qualifier Hut Stricklin. After inspecting the car for nearly two hours, NASCAR rules officials determined the car violated highly technical weight distribution requirements. Nemechek must now try for one of 11 spots near the rear of the field in qualifying Thursday.
"Whether it was intentional or unintentional, that's irrelevant," NASCAR director of operations Kevin Triplett said. "The driver certainly said it wasn't. We felt like something had maybe happened, shifted or whatever, during qualifying."
During the inspection, Nemechek conceded he pushed the envelope in some areas on the Chevrolet that he drives and owns.
"As a competitor, you're always trying to do as much as you can do to get every advantage you can," he said. "That's typical racing. That's part of what every competitor here does."
After the decision, Nemechek's crew worked frantically on the car to prepare it for Thursday while NASCAR officials repeatedly reminded them that the garage was closed. When the crew finally left, Nemechek rushed from the garage to his trailer.
Among the beneficiaries of the decision were Stricklin, whose speed of 187.289 was enough to win the pole.
"What Joe did, I felt like something wasn't right when I saw it then and there," Stricklin said. "It was pretty obvious. I could see it while I was just standing there on pit road. Some of the bars beneath the car were hitting the ground and sparking."
That's because the car was squatting down too much, something NASCAR tried to prevent by introducing a new shock rule for qualifying this year.
Moving from the Craftsman Truck Series to Busch this season, Ron Hornaday jumped from third to second at 187.289 mph. Terry Labonte will start third and Buckshot Jones will start fourth.
Another winner in the ruling was Dale Jarrett's son, Jason, who moved up to 25th and will avoid having to make the field through second-day qualifying.
Nemechek will be among the 32 drivers who will try again Thursday, when the qualifying will fill positions 26-36. Another seven spots are provisional starting positions based on team owner points from last year, bringing the field to 43.