When a racing fan thinks about racers like Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon, they'll often associate these two drivers as being the most relaxed, composed individuals in the intense sport of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.
In the course of 36 points races, frustrations are bound to boil over, stemming from issues like deliberate paint trading, mediocre pit stops, or a late race collapse from leading the field to ending up smashed up with a pile of heap in the garage area.
Considering the rather middling afternoon that Burton and Gordon were experiencing last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, with their cars hovering within the Top 20 just past halfway in the AAA Texas 500, coupled with their frustrating 2010 seasons with fruitless bids for a return to Victory Lane, something had to give.
On lap 191, as the field prepared to align itself under a caution flag formation, Gordon and Burton were heading into turn two to catch up with the rest of the field when the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet hooked the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet from behind.
Gordon was sent spinning into a head-on collision with the outside retaining wall, severely damaging both ends of his car while Burton's Richard Childress Racing mount suffered front-end flareup.
Also, it left 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Matt Kenseth, per Yahoo! Sports' Nick Bromberg's blog entry, musing and joking, "I heard there was a fight today. Did everyone take their helmets off?"
It's one thing to crash during a race, which generally happens under green flag conditions due to a variety of reasons, from mechanical problems to contact between at least two drivers. But a grinding during a caution period?
Add to that the Kurt Busch tangle at Martinsville from a few weeks ago for Gordon and one can understand why the following took place after both battered Chevy machines came to a rest on the backstretch.
No matter the most rational or soundest apology from Burton, Gordon was not going to have any of it on this day.
After taking off his helmet and gloves in his wrecked Impala, Gordon made one of the longest walks in all of motorsports—the one to the infield care center vehicle. However, it wasn't the only trip he had in mind in terms of a "mandatory check-up."
Instead, he paced himself in disgust towards Burton, who also latched out his Chevy, looking as if he had to prepare himself for what would be one of the most surreal moments of this season in NASCAR—fisticuffs between stock car racing's usually cool mannered racers.
Aggravated, Gordon landed two solid shoves and attempted a few swings at Burton before being separated by the Sprint Cup officials—a brief respite between the racers before both ended up riding in the same ambulance for their required infield care medical center check-up, where both were physically fine.
"Well, I didn't want to ride in the vehicle with him, I can tell you that," Gordon said. "I wanted to go confront him, that's for sure, but it wasn't fun. He talked. He talked a lot, you know? But I didn't say a whole lot."
However, the damage was done and both racers, whose Chase bids have taken a trip down south prematurely, watched the rest of the race in the garage area while their teams assessed and packed up their battered heaps to their respective team haulers.
When asked about the backstretch incident, Gordon said, "Lucky I had a long enough walk to think about what I wanted to say or do. If I hadn't had that long of a walk, I would have done something that I would have regretted."
Prior to the yellow flag crash, both racers were racing hard in the third corner, when Burton got Gordon's No. 24 machine loose.
Burton, whose view of the track was obstructed by the sun, tried to catch up with the DuPont Chevy once the caution flag flew to "explain" their near crash when indeed, both drivers ended up taking themselves out of the 500-miler.
Surprisingly, Burton understood Gordon's reaction and shove, saying, ""Honestly, I came off turn four with Jeff underneath me, the sun is really bad off of turn four and it is really hard to race over there right now and I should have let him go and I didn't.
"Caution came out and he pulled up next to me to express his displeasure and he was right. We don't need to be racing side-by-side right there right now. I went to pull back up to him to acknowledge him and when we did I was turning left and I don't know, we hooked somehow and around we went."
Perhaps summing their tangle best, Burton added, "Hell, I would have been mad if I had been him too. I really don't blame him. He was mad and I was right there and he wasn't some of it."
Considering the heat of the Lone Star State, which saw the entire No. 48 pit crew replaced by Chad Knaus with Gordon's "Rainbow Warriors," and Denny Hamlin taking his eighth win of the season, it was one of the most intense races in recent NASCAR times.
As for who was at fault for the Burton-Gordon scuffle, it's a case of both drivers who were both right and wrong. For old school racing fans, it was a bit reminiscent of the 1979 Daytona 500 "Donniebrook" that pitted Bobby and Donnie Allison in a fight with Cale Yarborough following a last-lap dramatic crash in turn three.
While one could sarcastically blame the sun for their crash, it may be a blessing in disguise that two normally even-tempered winners showed their raw, human emotions in front of the fans and media in attendance at Texas Motor Speedway.
Gordon showed intensity for being taken out and Burton expressed sincerity and candor in one of the most bizarre racing incidents of the year. For that, the real question isn't who's at fault, but rather, who won from the "Battle of the Jeff's?"
Fans won, as they had to be thrilled with the unexpected near-brawl, which brought some drama and controversy to this year's Chase, enhancing one of the closest title battles since 2004, pitting Hamlin, four-time Cup titlist Jimmie Johnson, and '07 Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick.
One has to wonder how these two drivers will handle each other in the next instance their machines are in the same spot, racing for the same inch of real estate on the track.
So to answer Matt Kenseth's post-race question, yes indeed, both racers took off their helmets before their altercation along the backstretch.
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