NASCAR usually hands down penalties for infractions on Tuesday but was quick and decisive this week after that post-Sprint Cup race drama at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday in which the pit crews of Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon engaged in fisticuffs.
Gordon triggered the brawling by delivering a little “payback” to Bowyer and crashing them both out of the race. Gordon then went to the garage area where words were exchanged with members of Bowyer’s crew and the fight was on.
Gordon is just a little guy and was hustled away from the scrum by other team members. Bowyer heard about the fight and went running from his car to join in although, when he arrived on the scene, he didn't seem all that anxious to trade any punches.
(An aside: everybody has been talking about how full of energy Bowyer was to go running several hundred yards at full speed. I say bosh to that: he’s a young professional athlete in peak condition and his sprint was no big deal. The person I was astounded by was the camerman who chased after Bowyer the whole way and managed to keep the driver in the centre of his camera's frame. That was impressive. Even if it was a camera on a golf cart, it was terrific TV. But I digress. . .)
I wrote in Sunday night's blog entry that I didn’t consider this to be any big deal and I would be surprised if NASCAR punished either of the drivers. Others disagreed and there were calls everywhere for Gordon’s head.
It turns out I misread the situation - although I don't agree at all with what NASCAR has done.
On Monday, NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 for intentionally wrecking Bowyer. He was docked 25 points and put on probation till the end of the year. It also penalized his boss, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, 25 owner points and put his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, on probation until Dec. 31. Bowyer's crew chief Brian Pattie was fined $25,000 and put on probation.
Now, it was no secret that Gordon was “laying in wait” for Bowyer to come around and Bowyer had been warned about this by his own crew. So why did he try to pass Gordon low and on the inside between turns 3 and 4 when he knew precisely what would happen - that Gordon would turn into him and try to wreck him?
On the other hand, I still don’t know what got Gordon so riled up in the first place. Their little collision several laps earlier looked to me to be just one of them racin’ deals.
Although $100,000 is small change to a multi-millionaire like Gordon, it was still an over-the-top penalty and NASCAR's inconsistency in this area is going to backfire on it one of these days.
One moment, NASCAR says "have at it, boys." Then, when somebody "has at it," it goes crazy and fines a guy $100,000 for something that happens all the time in every race. Repeat: all the time in every race. Nobody got hurt and it's too bad that Joey Logano got caught up in the wreck but that's something that happens all the time in every race too.
I don't believe for a second that Jeff Gordon tried to do anything other than to knock Clint Bowyer out of the race on Sunday. He did not do what Carl Edwards did two years ago to Brad Keselowski when he deliberately sent him flying through the air at 190 miles an hour. Edwards then drove the wrong way along pit road after he was black-flagged. For those much more serious transgressions, he received probation for three races. No suspension, no financial penalty, no nothing and yet, in my mind, his actions were much more dangerous and severe than anything Jeff Gordon did on Sunday.
Meantime, SPEED Channel is making hay while the sun shines with this one, promising "never-before-aired footage" from “inside the brawl” that it plans to broadcast Thursday night at 7 p.m. as part of a one-hour special about Michael Waltrip’s racing team.
Now, I’m one of those people who likes tradin’ paint and rubbin’ and racin’ and all those things that make stock car racing great but who draws the line at fighting. I like hockey, too, but I don’t see any reason why they still allow fighting in that sport either.
I have a friend who disagrees with me. His name is Bob Winegar and he’s a pretty good writer. He sent me this note early Monday morning. I publish it here as part of my never-ending quest to present all sides of a story, whether I agree with it or not.
The NASCAR race in Phoenix yesterday had everything the sport has been begging for ever since Cale Yarborough-Bobby Allison or the antics of the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The tall foreheads who run racing, whether it be NASCAR, F1 or IndyCar, seem to think that shiny cars, faster speeds, longer tracks or articulate drivers who give long-winded, plausible excuses for poor performance are the answer to enlightened entertainment, but the fans spoke yesterday, responding in cheers that haven't been heard around ovals for years, when Clint Bowyer took off like Usain Bolt, sprinting through the pits looking for Jeff Gordon in order to physically suggest that he stop wrecking him.
Stock car racing is not an intellectual pursuit, even though Mr. Bland Jimmie Johnson - he with the high IQ and low anger profile - may think otherwise. It's blue collar, derived from guys who were plumbers or construction workers or delivery guys who got together once a week to put the pedal to the metal and get the frustration of working for The Man out of their system - and if somebody's nose had to be altered in the pits in order to make a point, such as was often the case at the CNE or Flamboro Speedways in the early 60s, then so be it. Which was one of the reasons why attendance figures of 15,000 at the CNE and 6,000 at Flamboro were the norm.
Now many oval tracks are on life support. No fighting, few wrecks and nice, polite drivers who say, "After you, Alphonse."
And no attendance.
So it's hats off to baser instincts, who gave us - the mere fan - something to cheer about yesterday. Like the old days. And to the starter who, like they used to do at Pinecrest Speedway, "let 'em all go" even though poor Danica got it in the rear!
Thanks, Jeff and Clint, for reminding us that it's not the shiny car but the hammerhead behind the wheel who's made stock car racing the great sport it is!