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Bob Pockrass, The Sporting News

NASCAR Phoenix: NASCAR Should Have Suspended Jeff Gordon For Retaliating Against Clint Bowyer

AVONDALE, Ariz. – So much for consistency in NASCAR’s rules. If it had any, Jeff Gordon would be sitting at home during the season finale Sunday instead of racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Gordon should have been suspended for retaliating against Clint Bowyer and igniting a brawl between their two race teams.

What Gordon did to Bowyer Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway wasn’t as bad as Kyle Busch intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in the truck race at Texas last year, but it ranked close enough to merit a suspension and not just the $100,000 fine and 25-point penalty NASCAR levied late Monday afternoon.

After Bowyer ran into Gordon, cutting his tire and causing him to wreck, Gordon waited on Bowyer to come back around the track and then turned him into the wall, destroying Bowyer’s car and his championship hopes.

The only difference from the Busch-Hornaday incident is that Busch wrecked Hornaday under caution (when a driver wouldn’t expect to be wrecked) and pushed Hornaday’s truck several hundred feet before letting up and then hooking him and turning him into the wall.

Busch was suspended for the next day’s Nationwide Series race and the following day's Sprint Cup race at Texas. Gordon wasn’t, even though the incident led to a huge brawl in the garage and marred the next-to-last race of the season.

Fans can say what Gordon did was just racing. It wasn’t. It was wrong. It was dangerous. And NASCAR is lucky it didn’t take out two championship contenders instead of one since Chase leader Brad Keselowski was right behind Gordon and Bowyer when they crashed.

Gordon crossed the line between racing and recklessness. Here’s why:

• This was premeditated. Gordon stayed on the track and waited on Bowyer with the clear intention of retaliating. Afterward, he admitted he retaliated because he was “fed up” with Bowyer.

• It took out two drivers who were capable of winning the race in Bowyer and Joey Logano.

•  It had an impact on the championship race. Bowyer entered the race 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson and 29 behind Keselowski. When Johnson crashed earlier in the race, it put Bowyer back in the championship hunt and gave him at least a mathematical chance going into the season finale.

• Johnson, Gordon’s teammate, still is in the championship race. Gordon’s actions could be seen as taking out a championship contender so that Bowyer wouldn’t be in the mix to race his teammate in the final race. Gordon crew chief Alan Gustafson, when asked about affecting the championship in favor of a teammate, said Gordon still had a shot, too. That argument doesn’t hold water because Gordon was 65 points behind Keselowski and would have had no chance to catch him in the final race.

NASCAR can’t have its drivers, especially teammates, affecting the championship race with retaliation. It’s lucky that Keselowski didn’t get caught up in it, or else it certainly would have looked like a teammate helping another teammate win a championship.

This will not go down as one of Gordon’s finest moments. He certainly felt like he had to stand his ground, but maybe next week in practice could have been the time to get even with Bowyer. Or even next March at Phoenix.

It’s tempting to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt. He has does so many great things for the sport. He’s a four-time Cup champion. He does great things with his children’s foundation. His Drive To End Hunger sponsorship helps feed millions of families. He’s one of the best interviews in the sport and one of its greatest ambassadors.

He also has not had a resume full of run-ins with competitors and questionable actions that Busch had when he wrecked Hornaday.

But NASCAR should have taken a stand on this one. Gordon’s actions were flat-out wrong, plain and simple. And NASCAR can only hope the Bowyer-Gordon feud won’t ruin the championship race this Sunday at Homestead.

NASCAR needed to park Gordon for the final race and let the two drivers and their teams use the offseason to get over it and heal any potential wounds.

Don’t believe those who claim that this falls in the category of NASCAR’s “boys have at it” policy. That was supposed mean that when two drivers are bumping and banging and racing hard, that it’s OK to retaliate against a driver who has run into you or roughed you up. It means that a little payback during hard, aggressive racing is OK.

But Bowyer didn’t intentionally run into Gordon. Maybe he was a bit too aggressive and driving over his head.

The retaliation? That wasn’t Gordon driving over his head. That was Gordon losing his mind.

NASCAR should have parked him.