One more race and NASCAR will crown its 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup champion, but the chase everybody is talking about this week is the one that had Mariposa County deputy sheriffs separating men wearing 5-hour Energy fire suits from those sporting the DuPont gear. An old-fashioned melee broke out between the crews of Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer in the waning moments of the Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
NASCAR acted swiftly, fining Gordon $100,000 on Monday as well as docking him 25 championship points and slapping him with a probation that will last through the end of the year. Though Gordon released a statement Monday, taking full responsibility for his actions on the race track, it was far from issuing an apology. ''They've got to do what they've got to do, and I guess I had to do what I had to do,'' Gordon said. This was the culmination of a season-long feud between the drivers that Gordon pointed to after the race. "Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day,” Gordon said. “I've had it, fed up with it, and I got him back."
Fortunately, both drivers escaped injury, but where it really hurt Bowyer was in his hunt for the Sprint Cup title. He left the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway last week trailing Jimmie Johnson by 36 points and Brad Keselowski by 29. It was a long shot that he would catch either, but when Johnson blew a tire with 77 laps remaining that sent him hard into the wall suddenly Bowyer was back in the championship picture until Gordon took him out. "Cowardly, chicken move by someone that has raced for championships before and knows how important every position is," said Michael Waltrip, owner of Bowyer’s car. "They barely brushed on the back straightaway and he waits – he purposely waits – and tells everybody he's waiting and wrecks our car and our hopes for racing for a championship. I'm beside myself. I can't believe that he would get involved in the championship battle.”
Rick Hendrick, the owner on the other side of the argument came to Gordon’s defense. ''I've always respected Jeff for standing his ground,” said Hendrick, who was docked 25 owner points by NASCAR for the incident. “We also respect that NASCAR needs to police the sport and send a message when situations like this occur. It's been a great year, and we're going to put our focus on finishing in a positive way this weekend (at Homestead).''
Gordon will be allowed to drive in Sunday’s Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead and several of his competitors voiced their opposition after the race. Keselowski, who finished sixth and regained the points lead, was steaming about it. "It's a double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and about how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see (expletive) like that," Keselowski said. "That's (expletive). That's all you can call that. You race hard and I get called a (jerk) who has a death wish for racing hard, and I see (expletive) like that and it just (ticks) me off. It's just ridiculous, and they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."
Other Gordon competitors hit the Twitterverse to voice their displeasure. Joey Logano said when he was young he thought Gordon was the best driver, but that has since changed. “Now I've lost a lot of respect for him. #verydumb.” Denny Hamlin tweeted “The 24 should be parked! He took out 5 cars in that BS!”
Agreeing with that thought was Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie, who says NASCAR isn’t being consistent by not parking him for this weekend’s race. “They parked (Kyle Busch) when they retaliated (in the WinStar World Casino 350 race at Texas Motor Speedway last season).”
Should make for an interesting way to cap the season. Before the Chase champion hoists the trophy, will we see retaliation from Bowyer or any hot spots amongst the crews that will re-kindle the fire? It’s exactly the kind of controversy that Phoenix race winner Kevin Harvick thinks NASCAR needs to ramp up the drama and intrigue. “The sport was made on fights," Harvick said. "We should have more fights. I like fights. They're not always fun to be in, and sometimes you're on the wrong end. But fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”