Jeff Gordon was ordered to stand before the NASCAR sanctioning body on Monday, was told to extend his right arm and promptly got slapped on the wrist for his actions in Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix.
At least, that may as well have been the case.
You may have heard the story by now. Late in Sunday's race at Phoenix, Clint Bowyer made some contact with Jeff Gordon on the backstretch while racing for fifth. Gordon attempted to hit Bowyer in Turn 3, but got loose and hit the wall.
While Gordon limped his damaged car around the track, NASCAR black-flagged the No. 24 for being too slow, but Gordon did not heed the warning. Instead, he retaliated on Bowyer with two laps remaining by hooking Bowyer's No. 15 car head-on into the outside wall, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process.
All of this occurred right in front of championship leader Brad Keselowski, who's trying to lock up his first Sprint Cup title.
After bringing his car back to the garage, Gordon was bombarded by an angry No. 15 crew and chaos ensued. Bowyer ran from his car to join in on the action, but did not arrive in time to meet Gordon before Gordon was escorted into the No. 24 hauler.
Both drivers met with NASCAR after the race, and the sanctioning body elected to wait until today to make a decision on Gordon.
The result: a $100,000 fine, probation until the end of the year and a 25-point deduction for the driver; a 25-point deduction for the team; and probation until the end of the year for crew chief Alan Gustafson.
With that, NASCAR has set a precedent for acceptable penalties for intentionally taking out a competitor during a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event as part of a retaliatory effort.
It's not a very strong one.
Sure, Gordon's penalties may seem harsh. And if Sunday's incident and ensuing penalties had occurred at another juncture this season (say, the first Chase race at Chicagoland), these sanctions would have been significant.
At this stage of the season, however, Gordon's penalties prove inconsequential. As a driver well out of title contention, a point deduction does Gordon little to no harm. And as a man who makes several million dollars a year wielding his car around a race track, a monetary fine doesn't exactly drive NASCAR's point home either.
What Jeff Gordon did on Sunday was immature. It was negligent. It was downright stupid.
When Gordon chose to do what he did on Sunday, he didn't just get payback on a driver whom he felt wronged him; he did three other things that should have been taken into consideration when NASCAR ruled on his retaliatory act.
First, he blatantly ignored NASCAR's command to come to pit road, demonstrating a profound amount of disrespect for the officials, the other competitors and the sport.
Second, he committed his act in front of a wad of traffic, collecting two innocent bystanders who had done nothing to warrant their day being ruined, and endangering many more.
Third, he performed this act directly in front of Keselowski and, if not for some skillful driving and a bit of luck on the points leader's part, it could have had huge championship implications.
If Gordon had committed this egregious act under just one of those circumstances, it would have warranted a far greater penalty than what he got. But to do it under all three of those should have been grounds for a one-race suspension at the very least.
Instead, the sport's sanctioning body let Gordon off the hook and much more.
With the penalties it issued today, or lack thereof, NASCAR has shown that it has no desire to be respected by any parties involved in the sport, including the drivers; it has no regard whatsoever for the drivers who were wronged in this incident or in future incidents; and it has no wish to uphold the dignity of its championship battle.
In addition, Bowyer has not ruled out retaliating against Gordon in the finale at Homestead, which means we may not have seen the worst of this just yet.
Even if Bowyer chooses not to retaliate, the precedent has been set. Drivers know now that they can use their 3,600-lb race cars as weapons, endanger innocent bystanders and risk messing up a future championship battle without much more than a wrist slap.
Thanks in large part in NASCAR's decision to handle Jeff Gordon in a very weak manner.
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