There is no other way to say it, no better way to describe what took place two laps from the finish Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Jeff Gordon was nearly mugged, plain and simple.
The offenders weren't some scraggly thieves looking for Johnson's wallet for a quick cash score.
Rather, the offenders were nothing short of the kind of hooligans you'd find in the most egregious soccer matches in either Europe or South America.
Those offenders were disguised as members of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team, but in reality, they were nothing more than out and outright thugs.
Sure, 30 or 40 years ago, when drivers had a dust-up on the race track, they'd more often than not settle their differences man-to-man and fist-to-fist behind the nearest hauler. Who can forget the infield skirmish between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough in the 1979 Daytona 500?
But this is modern day NASCAR. We've come a long way—or at least I'd like to hope we have—than from things like the Allison-Yarborough throwdown in the infield of Daytona International Speedway 33 years ago.
Yes, this is modern-day NASCAR. This is not the wild, wild West, this is not pro wrestling and this is certainly not what NASCAR is supposed to be about.
I get that Bowyer and his crew were upset. But at the same time, these are supposed to be grown men, individuals that are supposed to represent Michael Waltrip Racing and several key sponsors in the finest and most upstanding ways.
I can only imagine how officials from 5-Hour Energy, Bowyer's primary sponsor, must have reacted when Bowyer's crew rushed to try and attack Gordon.
That's right, call it what it is—it was an attempt to attack. You disagree? Let's see you get charged by a raging herd of testosterone-driven headhunters hell-bent on not just getting to you but also likely trying to physically hurt you, and then see how you would describe them, let alone how you'd feel.
If what Gordon did to Bowyer on the race track—wrecking Bowyer and ending his Chase chances—was intentional, what Gordon did was unquestionably wrong.
But does it merit the response Bowyer's crew responded with?
Playing devil's advocate—and we can only hope it's not the case, lest it destroy a great chunk of integrity within the sport—but Gordon's actions on the surface give rise to the possibility that he intentionally wrecked Bowyer not so much because they've had a season-long grudge going.
No, a strong case could be made that Gordon took Bowyer out to make things a bit easier for teammate Jimmie Johnson in next Sunday's season finale at Homestead to rally back and win his sixth championship.
In other words, you could say Gordon took one for the team Sunday, and Bowyer ultimately was knocked out of what remaining mathematical contention he potentially could have had in the Chase going into Homestead.
But looking at several replays of the wreck with Bowyer, some can make the case that Gordon was merely jockeying for position and that there was no premeditation. That's how I saw it; I'm not saying I'm right or wrong, that was just the way I saw it, that Gordon came down slightly on Bowyer—he may not have even known the No. 15 was there—and then they tangled.
As it turns out, Gordon subsequently admitted he intentionally wrecked Bowyer, according to ESPN.com:
Gordon did not come out of the incident shining like a rose by any means, but Bowyer and his crew came off much worse.
When several of Bowyer's crew members attempted to physically attack Gordon, causing him to fall to the ground, they committed an unspeakable act of thuggery. Sure, I can understand why they'd be upset, knowing that their driver's title hopes just ended, but adults are supposed to act like adults.
Not buffoons in front of the whole world to see.
I'm sure this was not what NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton meant when he uttered his now-famous decree of "Boys, have at it."
What happened Sunday was nothing less than a black eye for the sport. Sure, the tussling likely made every TV sports show in the country, giving the sport great media exposure.
But is that what NASCAR really wants to be known for, fighting rather than great racing?
Frankly, Bowyer's crew made everyone in NASCAR look very, very bad. And this is something that is not going to be easily forgotten, not in the minds of fans, the media and especially every member that calls the Sprint Cup garage home on every Sunday.
I found ironic that four Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies were stationed around the NASCAR hauler after the race, trying to protect the occupants inside, including Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson.
What those same deputies should have done was arrest those members of Bowyer's crew for attempting to attack Gordon, almost bordering on battery.
Yes, that is the correct word, attack. It was nothing less.
If you or I did something similar, we'd be locked up, no questions asked.
If NASCAR is wise, it will act quickly and effectively to penalize the wrongdoers. Those crew members that honed in on Gordon should be banned for the sport for one year, no questions asked. No salary, no involvement with the team, nothing.
For his part, making a spectacle of himself by running down pit road and into the garage area in a seeming show of machismo and what can only be described as a half-hearted attempt to get into Gordon's hauler, Bowyer should be suspended for the season-ending race Sunday at Homestead, not to mention fined heavily.
Brian Pattie, Bowyer's crew chief, and team owner Michael Waltrip should also each be fined heavily for failing to keep their employees under control.
If, after investigation, NASCAR feels Gordon was culpable and indeed instigated the on-track course of events, he should also be parked for Sunday's race at Homestead.
If NASCAR does nothing, or very little, it is setting itself up for the potential of an even bigger embarrassment at Homestead. If both Gordon and Bowyer are not parked, what potentially would stop Bowyer from, say, intentionally wrecking Johnson, thus ending his hopes for a sixth Cup championship?
I'd even be willing to bet that Brad Keselowski would feel winning the championship would be cheapened if such an incident occurred, where he wasn't able to race Johnson to the finish fair and square.
There is no way to condone what Bowyer's crew members did to Gordon, no matter how justified they felt in their wrath.
Now it's up to NASCAR to show those instigators the true wrongness of their ways. If you want to act like a thug, you deserve to be treated and punished like one.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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