In one of the more surreal scenes in recent NASCAR memory, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer set off a sequence of events during the Sunday, November 11, Phoenix race that could have repercussions not just for next week, but for next season and the Sprint Cup championship.
The scene: with seven laps remaining, Bowyer clipped Gordon, and Gordon slid hard into the wall. Unable to continue, Gordon was black-flagged by NASCAR but did not leave the track. Instead, he waited for Bowyer, and took out not just Bowyer but a trailing Joey Logano as well.
The reaction from both crews was immediate. Bowyer’s team seethed over the radio, with crew chief Brian Pattie saying this was no way for a champion to act. Gordon climbed out of his car and an unprecedented scene unfurled: the entire 15 team charging straight at Gordon alone. Gordon was apparently shoved into his hauler, but the 24′s team arrived in time to join the fight themselves.
And Bowyer, whose car and championship hopes were junk, sprinted from the track back to the garage. He stood on the back of the 24′s hauler and shouted at Gordon, to no avail. Eventually, Gordon and crew chief were escorted by police to the NASCAR hauler. Punishment will no doubt be forthcoming.
Long after the race, Gordon spoke briefly about his rivalry with Bowyer, which most notably may have cost Gordon a win in the spring at Martinsville. “It’s escalated over the year and I’ve just had it,” he said. “Clint’s run into me numerous times and wrecked me. He got into me on the back straightaway and ruined our day. I set up and got him back.”
There you have it: not that there was any doubt, but Gordon effectively confessed to headhunting. And under a black flag? NASCAR will not look fondly upon that. Recall that last year, Kyle Busch was suspended for doing the exact same thing to Ron Hornaday Jr. in Texas.
Reaction to the brawl was swift. “Cowardly, chicken and sad,” Michael Waltrip, Bowyer’s team owner, told MRN. “What a sad act that was by Jeff Gordon.”
“When I was young I thought @JeffGordonWeb was the best driver,” Logano said on Twitter. “Now I’ve lost a lot of respect for him. #verydumb”
“The 24 should be parked!” Logano’s teammate Denny Hamlin wrote on Twitter. “He took out 5 cars in that BS.”
“It’s just a shame, man,” Bowyer said after the race. “The last thing you want to get into anything with is Jeff Gordon. I didn’t even need to pass him. All I was doing was biding my time. For him to act like that, I barely touched him. It makes us all look like a bunch of retards. It’s pretty embarrassing, and not what you expect from a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best the sport’s ever seen.”
Brad Keselowski, the current points leader, had a different take, given some of the heat he received for his driving last week: “I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I’m out of control and have a death wish, and then I see [BS] like that,” he said. “That’s [freaking] [BS]. That’s all you can call that. These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called an [posterior body part] for racing hard and called with a death wish, and I see [stuff] like that, and it just pisses me off … they should be ashamed. It’s embarrassing.”
NASCAR pledged it wouldn’t render immediate judgment on Jeff Gordon for his role in wrecking Clint Bowyer and upending the end of Sunday’s Phoenix race. But officials didn’t wait much longer, handing down a decision on Monday evening, November 12: a fine of $100,000 and a 25-point penalty.
It was not a surprising penalty, but it will certainly disappoint those who believed Gordon deserved suspension for his actions. Gordon not only ignored a black flag, he altered the championship battle by taking out one of the final contenders.
However, unlike Kyle Busch, suspended last year for a similar incident, Gordon does not have a long track record of flaunting both authority and his fellow drivers. For that reason, he escaped a more severe punishment.