When it comes to Jeff Gordon, you either love him or you hate him. After the events at Phoenix International Raceway, it's clear NASCAR falls in that first category.
The verdict on Gordon's role in the brawl at Phoenix came down on Monday, and it was not to park the four-time champion. Instead, he will be fined $100,000, docked 25 points in the standings and will be on probation until Dec. 31.
It's a small price to pay for Gordon, who virtually admitted to wrecking Clint Bowyer at the Advocare 500 on Sunday with two laps to go. After taking him out, both Gordon and Bowyer's crews got into it before the two men were involved in a brawl that's been gathering YouTube hits quicker than a singing kitten.
Gordon has been upset about Bowyer's driving on the series for quite some time. It all came to a head in the final two laps, when Gordon knowingly waited for Bowyer to come around the track and be in position to spin him into the wall. Joey Logano was also involved in the wrong-place, wrong-time setting.
Here's what Gordon had to say about the crash, per Lee Spencer of Fox Sports:
'Things just got escalated over the year, and I'd just had it...Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it, fed up with it and I got him back.'
Earlier in the race, Bowyer got up under Gordon down the straightaway. Gordon got into the wall, and the rest was history when the two men got close enough in the final laps.
Across NASCAR, drivers and fans can't believe that Gordon would stoop to that kind of end game. It's understandable that a feud reach a point of no return, but many have a problem with the injury implications and low-class move to put someone out of a race.
Brad Keslowski was none too happy after the race was over. He's been the butt of criticism from drivers and the league alike about being too aggressive in certain spots, and was an unknowing prophet when he wondered if the league would come down hard on Gordon.
Here's a look at his post-race interview. (Warning: inappropriate language censored, still visible).
NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip didn't agree with the move or the fine that the league brought down. He was in the camp for Gordon to be parked and voiced his opinion after the decision was handed down.
Waltrip brings up the best point about why Gordon needed to be suspended for his actions. He admitted to the offense immediately following the race.
To his credit, he managed to keep his story straight and was resolved to not let the aftermath change his view on the issue. Even on his Twitter account last night, Gordon maintained that he did what he did, has no problem with his reasoning and offered an apology to the rest of the field for the incident between just two drivers.
I'll say the same thing I told @nascar & media. Reached my limit, tired of getting run into by 15. Sorry to the other guys involved.— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) November 12, 2012
Supporters of Gordon will be quick to point out that he does not have a history of taking this approach with many people. One of the more good-natured, strictly competitive guys on the Cup series, he appears to have just let this personal feud go to a more national stage.
As pointed out by Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports, this sets a dangerous precedent for the sport with the ramifications of the event still fresh in the other driver's camp.
That settles things from NASCAR's end, but what about the drivers? Bowyer all but pledged retaliation on Gordon. If that happens to have championship implications— unlikely but possible—that could reopen the entire matter. If not, well ... this one goes into the NASCAR storybooks as one of the moments that got the country talking about the sport.
The publicity for NASCAR is huge—maybe more than the sport has seen since Jimmy Johnson began his reign atop the standings—but is it the right kind? And is it the right decision by the governing body?
A few stacks of green and 25 points are both significant enough to applaud the league for making note of the issue, not just sweeping it under the rug. However, it won't be enough to end this brawl between the two men or keep others from starting more.
Despite his status as one of the longest-tenured people in the sport, the league dropped the flag on this one. The outright defiance of the situation should have been enough to give him a suspension—albeit a short one—to let the rest of the field cool off and avoid any further issue.
In Miami this weekend, will bad blood continue to spill on the race track? If it does, it's clear NASCAR should have sidelined Gordon for a period of time, whether they love what he brings to the sport or not.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist and syndicated writer for B/R's Breaking News Team, as well as the NBA and Dallas Mavericks.