Jeff Gordon is a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. He's also an 86-time race winner, three-time Daytona 500 champion and 72-time polesitter at NASCAR's highest level.
But on Sunday, he was also the sport's biggest idiot, committing an act of retaliation against Clint Bowyer so reckless and irresponsible that NASCAR would be amiss not to park him for next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In case you haven't seen the highlights by now, with eight laps to go, Gordon and Bowyer made contact on the backstretch. The contact cut one of Gordon's tires and sent him into the outside wall. NASCAR chose not to throw a caution, allowing Gordon to continue making laps despite debris coming off of his car.
The No. 24 car then began to slow on the track, prompting NASCAR to black flag Gordon. Rather than heed the warning, however, Gordon spun Bowyer as he came up the inside of turn four, also wrecking himself and Joey Logano in the process, and prompting Aric Almirola to spin in them from behind the accident. This all happened in front of Brad Keselowski, the de facto points leader after Jimmie Johnson's lap 235 accident.
In response, Bowyer's crew attacked Gordon's, while Bowyer sprinted from his car to Gordon's trailer to try and confront his assailant head-on. Four policemen had to stand guard outside of the NASCAR hauler in order to escort Gordon back to his trailer.
That last fact alone should illustrate the magnitude of Gordon's actions.
It's true that NASCAR dropped the ball by failing to throw a caution when Gordon's car was clearly dropping debris on the track. But while they tried to let the race for the lead play out, Gordon plotted his revenge, and came up with the worst possible manifestation possible: coming out of the fourth turn with two laps to go in front of a large crowd of cars.
Gordon's frustration with Bowyer is justified. They've had multiple run-ins this year, including Martinsville in April, that have led to a lasting dislike. The revenge itself was fair, but the timing was indefensible; Gordon chose to make his move in a way that also affected the innocent parties of Logano and Almirola. Had he waited until Bowyer was clear of other cars, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
Worse, Gordon could have altered the championship significantly had Keselowski been involved. Keselowski had been catching up to Logano, and had he been doing so a little bit faster, could have easily been caught up in the accident. That would have undone all of his hard work maintaining a top-10 spot all race, and negated any advantage from Johnson's wreck.
Retaliation is a part of the game in NASCAR, and it always has been. Reckless and irresponsible driving, however, has no place in the sport—especially when it comes by way of ignoring a black flag to cause a pre-meditated accident that endangers other drivers on track. And coming from Gordon, who has long been looked upon as a role model both on and off the track, such an action is simply unacceptable.
Points penalties are worthless, because Gordon would have been eliminated from the championship hunt today anyway. Meanwhile, fines are a minimal deterrent for a team like Hendrick Motorsports, which has no problems funding its operation. The only reasonable penalty is to park Gordon for a race, a precedent that they set with Kevin Harvick in 2002 and Kyle Busch last year.
NASCAR let the drivers race at the end of today's event, and now they're stuck dealing with the consequences. Gordon could have very easily retaliated in a different manner, taking out Bowyer without ruining Logano's day. He chose not to, and told reporters after the race "They've (NASCAR) got to do what they've got to do."
If that's how he feels, let's hope he enjoys taking next weekend off. He's certainly earned it.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.