“It amazes me. Every time I think Robby can’t do anything any more stupid than he’s already done, he one-ups himself.” – Casey Mears, March 2007
It is time to revisit the subject of Robby Gordon: Racecar Driver after his controversial activities in Montreal, Canada last Saturday. In March of this year, I dedicated this weekly column to defending Gordon against what I believe to be unfair and unbalanced treatment by the motorsports community as a whole. What had prompted that article, entitled “Robby Gordon: NASCAR’s ‘Lone Wolf’“ were allegations of Gordon’s aggressive driving that led to an early-race accident in Las Vegas, one which ended with the racecars of Ward Burton and Mears being severely damaged. Though I continue to maintain that Gordon’s survival as an owner/driver in Nextel Cup far outshadows in significance any perceived “bad behavior” on his part, I believe Mears’s comment on the accident at that time, in consideration of these most recent events, carries considerably more credence.
Considering all of the altercations with teammates and other drivers that Gordon has been involved in over his career – or even the numerous one-car spins or multi-car wrecks he’s caused – it seems to me that Gordon has definitely upped his “stupid bar” another notch or two this time. And I say this knowing that Gordon probably had good reason to be angry over NASCAR’s insistence that he restart the Busch Series race in the 13th position, a ruling made after Gordon was spun by Marcos Ambrose during a caution period. No question, NASCAR officials – no matter how they try to justify their decision – clearly blew this call. However, the defiant and bizarre manner in which Gordon responded to NASCAR’s on-track ruling will cost the driver much more than the fines and probation that NASCAR levied against him, something he should have taken time to consider before he decided to begin his version of a “protest.”
The explanation Gordon has offered for his refusal to restart the race in the ordered position, remaining second to enact the obviously deliberate move of taking out of the leader, is almost laughable. According to Gordon, he did this so that he could let the race “play out” how it would have had NASCAR, in his opinion, not made an error in scoring him 13th after the caution period. Yeah right, Robby! You believed that after failing to start in your posted position, ignoring directions from officials to leave the track, committing a flagrant rough driving violation so that you could let the race finish out as you believed it should have, that you could simply waltz into the NASCAR trailer and explain to officials their scoring error and all would be right with the world. What a crock!
No, Robby Gordon went to the inaugural NASCAR race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve because it is a road race, and he knows he can win road races. He’s not a regular in the Busch Series; no points were on the line here. All that concerned Gordon was simply earning a trip to victory lane. And when NASCAR determined that Gordon would start outside the top 10 with only three laps remaining, he decided to make a mockery of the event in order to make that win a reality. And, boy did he do it in spades. After the race, he mirrored winner Kevin Harvick‘s victory celebration, post-race burnouts and arm pumping included. Though he was fully aware that he did not take the checkered flag, he just couldn’t resist the chance to make that little extra dig, take that, NASCAR!
I won’t deny that there was a certain degree of entertainment value to what this multi-talented driver did. For sure, you can give him a 10 for originality – I haven’t seen such an amateurish display by a driver in even a local dirt track Bomber Class race in ages. But, like in Robby’s case with NASCAR, the local-track officials are never amused by the antics of their disgruntled “weekend warrior” either.
Late yesterday, NASCAR handed down their own fine and penalty. In addition to sitting out last Sunday’s Nextel Cup race at Pocono due to his antics, Gordon was fined an additional $35,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31, 2007. His probation comes with an additional warning that if, during the remaining NASCAR events in 2007, there is another action by Gordon that is deemed by officials as detrimental to stock car racing, NASCAR, or is disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event, he will be suspended indefinitely from the sport.
All and all, it was not as harsh a punishment as some might have predicted. Possibly, NASCAR did not come down as heavy-handed as they certainly could have because they conceded that they were not without fault in the scoring irregularity. But, nonetheless, it would behoove Robby to tone it down if he cares to continue his Cup career. It is my bet that NASCAR will have a memory like Jimmy Spencer claims to have as far as this incident is concerned. Gordon’s performance in the closing laps of the race in front of the sold out, auto-racing savvy crowd in Montreal had to be nothing less than an embarrassment to them.
But Robby has much more to now deal with than NASCAR’s clearly stated penalties. As a Nextel Cup and part-time Busch Series owner and driver, he will surely suffer for his adolescent behavior in a much more damaging manner, and one of his own making. As a team owner, Robby answers to a much higher authority, corporate sponsors. The really lucrative Fortune 500 sponsors are an incredibly conservative lot – especially when it comes to making decisions on where and to whom their advertising dollars go.
Looking back on the weekend, there’s very little doubt that there were no captains of industry or CEOs of financial institutions watching the events of last Saturday and saying, “That Gordon guy, I want him to represent our product/company!” And Robby Gordon, the team owner – no matter how defiant he sounds – surely knows that he just dug a much larger hole for himself in his heroic efforts to remain a viable NASCAR team owner. No doubt, he has insured that a few more potential sponsorship opportunities for his already sponsor-challenged team are now lost.
Right or wrong, that’s Gordon’s reality. A solid owner may be able to counteract the occasional inappropriate behavior of a driver with sponsors. However, when the bad actor is not only the driver, but also the man in charge, the risks become more than most responsible companies want to take with both their name and their money. And, frankly, they don’t need to. There are plenty of more staid and successful team owners out there more than willing to do business with them.
But is this the beginning of the end for Robby? Possibly not. It’s just another self-made hurdle that he did not need, one that he will now have to overcome. It’s a shame, for Gordon has defied the odds since he put his first Robby Gordon Motorsports Cup car on the track to attempt the Daytona 500 in 2005. The experts never gave him a chance of making it this far, and he’s done a great job in surpassing the highest of expectations.
But he isn’t making it easy on himself.
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