Jeff Gordon vs. Clint Bowyer: What to Make of Sunday's Fight at Phoenix

Ben Montedonico@@NASCARBRBenContributor IIINovember 12, 2012

Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon had a fight for the ages Sunday at Phoenix
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon had a fight for the ages Sunday at PhoenixTom Pennington/Getty Images

Watch the video.

If you don't yet know exactly what went down between four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title contender Clint Bowyer in the waning laps on Sunday at Phoenix, scroll down and watch the video on the right-hand side of your screen.

My description simply won't do it justice. So please, if you have the opportunity, watch the video.

If, however, you're pressed for time, have a dial-up internet connection or are reading this on a mobile device, I will do my best to explain in words exactly what went down in the closing laps on Sunday.

With seven laps remaining in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season's penultimate race, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon raced side-by-side for the fifth position. The two made contact as the right-front of Bowyer's No. 15 car clipped the left-rear of Gordon's No. 24 machine going down the backstretch.

When the drivers got to Turn Three, an upset Gordon attempted to turn back into Bowyer's car, and in doing so got loose and slid into the outside retaining wall.

As he limped his Dupont Chevrolet around the track with significant damage to the right side of his car, NASCAR black-flagged Gordon and ordered him to pit road. Gordon had other ideas and elected not to heed the black flag.

Instead, Gordon continued to limp around, waiting for Bowyer's 5-Hour Energy Toyota to catch up. With two laps to go, it finally did and Gordon wasted no time retaliating, hooking Bowyer's car head-on into the Turn Four wall, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process.

The crash happened right in front of championship leader Brad Keselowski, who is attempting to lock up his first Sprint Cup title.

But the retaliatory effort by Gordon was only the beginning. After he limped his demolished No. 24 machine back to the garage, Gordon was bombarded by an angry No. 15 pit crew and a brawl for the ages broke out near the No. 24 hauler.

An understandably upset Bowyer ran from his destroyed race car, which he had parked on pit road, and tried to run down Gordon but to no avail, as Gordon had already been escorted into his hauler.

After the race, both drivers expressed their side of what happened.

From Gordon, according to the Team Chevy website:

Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it. Clint (Bowyer) has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day. I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back.

From Bowyer, according to the Toyota Racing website:

I mean the racing -- it's just a shame. The last person in the world you want to get into anything with is Jeff Gordon on the race track. I mean, you're down there racing, the track's extremely slick, we're all on tires -- I didn't even need to pass him. That's the thing. All I was doing is riding around biding my time.

The only thing I had to do is keep the 5 car (Kasey Kahne) within reach, so for him to act like that -- I mean, I barely touched him and then I feel him get into turn three and try to turn me and he missed and then next thing I know Brett's (Griffin, spotter) telling me on the radio that he's trying to -- he's waiting on me.

It's pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion -- and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen -- to act like that is just completely ridiculous."

So, with all of this being said, what exactly are we to make of what happened at Phoenix?

First and foremost, we have the initial act which triggered everything; that being the first contact made between Gordon and Bowyer.

On the replay, it appears that the initial contact between the two was entirely incidental. Drivers make contact on the track all the time. It's part of racing, especially in the closing laps of a race and in a smaller, more compact facility like Phoenix.

The initial contact is what sparked Gordon's anger and caused him to attempt retaliation on Bowyer not once, but twice. However, the first attempt at retaliation, not the contact caused by Bowyer, appears to be what caused Gordon to hit the wall in the first place.

Also, Gordon claims that the issue with Bowyer has been escalating for quite some time. Although we don't know what goes on between the drivers on every lap of every race, the only evidence that a move by Bowyer has cost Gordon anything this year comes from Martinsville back on April 1.

On that day, Bowyer took Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson three-wide for the lead on a green-white-checkered restart. It was an ill-advised move, no doubt, but certainly not one performed with any malice—just hard racing for the win.

Back to Sunday, the decision by Gordon to wreck Bowyer intentionally and the manner in which he did it (turning him head-on into the wall) appears to be a severe overreaction on his part and a move that should not be tolerated by the sanctioning body.

Gordon's act in and of itself was bad, but there were three significant factors which made it worse.

First, Gordon performed his act of retaliation while choosing not to heed a warning by NASCAR to come to the pits. That's a double whammy, as both failing to heed a black flag and intentionally causing a crash are actions severely frowned upon by NASCAR and everybody in the garage area.

Second, Gordon elected to wreck Bowyer despite being at the front of a great deal of traffic and, in doing so, he collected two other drivers who had absolutely nothing to do with the feud between Gordon and Bowyer. Whether Gordon knew he was in traffic or not, his move displayed an extremely high level of negligence on his part.

Third, in choosing to pay Bowyer back where and when he did, Gordon could have easily impacted the championship picture even more than he did. While taking out the third-place points man, Gordon also endangered championship leader Brad Keselowski, who was lucky to slip by without any damage.

As for the fight, Bowyer and his crew had every right to be upset. As a team, they had worked very hard through the first 34 races to position themselves for a chance to win the title, although they were a long-shot. In one fell swoop, Gordon undid all of that, and he did it on purpose.

With that said, violence can and should never be condoned anywhere, particularly in a NASCAR garage. Though Bowyer and his crew did have a right to be upset (and maybe even had a right to take a shot or two at Gordon), their retaliatory actions weren't right, either.

Regarding the repercussions, everyone will have his or her own opinion as to what should be done. NASCAR doesn't exactly have a consistent baseline as to what the penalty is for intentionally wrecking somebody, even a title contender.

Though Kyle Busch was forced to sit out a race for intentionally wrecking out Ron Hornaday in the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas a year ago, recall that Brian Vickers was allowed to race at Homestead last year despite intentionally wrecking out long-shot title contender Matt Kenseth in the penultimate race at Phoenix.

That said, the right thing for NASCAR to do would be to sit Gordon down for next week's finale at Homestead, considering his actions were malicious and not only affected Bowyer, but others as well.

As for the crews, that's not for me to say. Without knowing exactly what went down in that scrum by the No. 24 hauler, it's tough to determine whether fines and suspensions should be given to those guys or whether it should simply be chalked up to tempers flaring.

Regarding Bowyer, he did nothing wrong on the track and was restrained from doing anything to warrant a suspension off the track. He should be in the field for next week's finale.

Whatever NASCAR decides, 2012's penultimate race at Phoenix will certainly go down as one of the ugliest we've ever seen.

Even if we may need the video to tell us exactly what happened.


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