Well that was quite the race wasn’t it?
In fact, so much happened between Jeff Gordon’s deliberate and premeditated wrecking of Clint Bowyer just before the leader took the white flag, I almost forgot there was still a race to finish whilst the fifteen-minute red flag delay occurred. In many ways Kevin Harvick’s victory and Brad Keselowski all but sealing his first Sprint Cup championship became little more than afterthoughts, given the melee and general carnage after Gordon’s remarkably ill-advised on track actions.
In a break with protocol, NASCAR issued penalties on Monday (typically they are issued on the Tuesday) for the events that transpired at Phoenix International Raceway this past Sunday. Jeff Gordon was fined $100,000, docked 25 points and placed on probation until December 31st while Brian Pattie, Bowyer’s crew chief, was fined $25,000 and also placed on probation until the turn of the year. All of which really amounts to just about nothing. How much use is probation with one race to go? Are these drivers going to be in trouble if they sup too many glasses of wine at the banquet? It’s farcical. It really is.
How is what Jeff Gordon did any worse than Kyle Busch taking out Ron Hornaday at the tail end of last season? Answer: It’s not. And the problem stems with the whole “have at it boys and have a good time” principle introduced a few years back.
On the events that led to Kyle’s suspension from that weekend’s Cup race, NASCAR president Mike Helton commented: “When we gave the responsibility back to the drivers, there was a clear understanding that a line could be crossed. As annoying as this is to hear, we’ve always said we would know it when we see it. We saw it last night.”
So,what pray did they see in what Jeff Gordon did that was any different? Both took out championship contenders at speed using their cars as weapons. You might have to be a Rhodes Scholar to truly answer that one because the simple fact is that it was no different, no different at all. Gordon should have been parked and there were plenty of folks who would agree with that.
Denny Hamlin “@dennyhamlin”:http://twitter.com/dennyhamlin for one, who tweeted post race, “Great turnaround week for our FedEx team. 1 more to go! On another note. The 24 should be parked! He took out 5 cars in that BS!”
Hamlin’s teammate (at least for one more race) Joey Logano “@joeylogano”:http://twitter.com/joeylogano wasn’t shy in his opinion either, tweeting, “When I was young I thought @JeffGordonWeb was the best driver. Now I’ve lost a lot of respect for him. #verydumb.”
Both drivers are spot on. Gordon was remarkably stupid. Had he had a proper set of balls he would have waited until Bowyer exited his car at the end of the race and handled it like a man on pit road. Instead, he chose the cowardly option that also took out both Logano and Aric Almirola and very nearly took out Keselowski in the process.
Had the Blue Deuce been entangled in the wreck, would the punishments be different? I think so. Not everyone agrees.
Jenna Fryer “@JennaFryer,”:http://twitter.com/JennaFryer the AP Motorsports writer, for one, tweeted on Monday, “I am totally in the minority here, but I do not believe @JeffGordonWeb should be suspended.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I live and work in Manhattan and for the first time in the entire seven years I’ve covered the sport, NASCAR was a genuine topic of conversation today amongst my colleagues – none of whom follow the sport in even the vaguest of ways. That may never happen again but it did make for a pleasant change. Even now, as I write on Monday evening, “Jeff Gordon fight” is still trending on Yahoo’s top ten stories – remarkable given the ADD nature of trending topics.
But the question I keep coming back to and still can’t quite answer is why NASCAR didn’t suspend Gordon? For the most part in his 21-year 688-race career, the four-time champion and certain future Hall of Famer has conducted himself with dignity and class. He’s one of the very few drivers non NASCAR fans could name – a true ambassador for NASCAR. But does this give him a pass? No, it doesn’t and even more so with just one race to go in the season. Gordon’s year has long been over, after all.
All I can think of in terms of reasoning or logic is that NASCAR sees it as a rare blip in Gordon’s typically solid citizen behavior, the sort of move we won’t probably see from him again. The cynical side of me would say NASCAR wants to keep people talking about the sport in the hope that the ratings will see a significant boost this weekend.
Now on the one hand, what ultimately transpired was fabulous entertainment. And sport is meant to be a glorious distraction that pales into insignificance compared to the real issues of life. Just ask the folks in places such as Staten Island and the Rockaways who continue to deal with the crippling effects of Hurricane Sandy. But at what point does retaliation go a step too far? When does entertainment become something far more serious and sinister? Has the “have at it” threshold been exceeded? Yes, when Gordon waited for Bowyer and drove him into the wall with blatant disregard for not just Bowyer but those racing for top-10 finishes behind the first year Michael Waltrip Racing driver.
Passion is one of the most crucial qualities to possess in racing. And passion is something we’ve seen from Jeff Gordon in numerous different formats over the years. It’s part of what makes him the great champion that he is. But Sunday’s amateur hour move went way too far. That was passion gone hugely awry. Gordon had time to think about what he was going to do and he still did it. He should have known far better than to pull such a ridiculous move. NASCAR should have parked him for Sunday without a shadow of a doubt.
*And finally* this week let’s not forget that Clint Bowyer is not on any kind of probation. He will be under the official’s microscope, certainly, but might he choose Sunday’s final race at Miami-Homestead as the moment to extract some revenge? And what might those consequences be?
We’ll find out soon enough.