Sunday, November 11, 2012

If NASCAR doesn’t suspend Jeff Gordon, it should have only one explanation

NASCAR officials had a difficult decision on their hands as they went to bed Sunday night following a wild race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Jeff Gordon incited a massive brawl that involved him, his #24 team and several members of Clint Bowyer’s #15 team Sunday after he intentionally turned Bowyer into the wall Sunday as the field came to the white flag.
While the fight was the most eye-catching part of the incident, the part of the situation that will likely receive the most scrutiny is Gordon’s punting of Bowyer into the wall on purpose, even though Bowyer still had a mathematical chance to win the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Bowyer had gotten underneath Gordon and made contact a few laps before the wreck that started the fight. The fender rub caused Gordon’s tire to blow and he crashed in Turn 4. The part of the wreck that should be the focus of NASCAR’s decision is what happened next.
Gordon waited for Bowyer to come back around the track and then turned him straight into the wall while also wrecking Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. He also nearly ruined another championship contender’s day because Brad Keselowski was right behind Logano when the wreck happened.
Anyway, Gordon’s actions looked a lot like what Kyle Busch did to Ron Hornaday Jr. last year at Texas Motor Speedway in a Camping World Truck Series race.
Hornaday Jr. was in championship contention heading into the race, but he and Busch traded paint early in the event. The caution came out shortly thereafter, and Busch drove Hornaday Jr. up into the Turn 2 wall, effectively ending Hornaday Jr.’s shot at winning the title.
The only difference between Busch’s actions and Gordon’s actions was the presence of the yellow flag. Busch wrecked Hornaday Jr. under caution while Gordon wrecked Bowyer under green-flag conditions.
That should also be the only reason NASCAR doesn’t suspend Gordon for next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Everything else about the wrecks is essentially the same.
If NASCAR doesn’t suspend Gordon and says they made the decision based on something other than whether the wreck happened under caution, the sport will be thrown into a mess that would once again tarnish the integrity of the sport.
NASCAR dropped a major punishment on Busch last year by parking him for both the Nationwide and Cup races at Texas following his intentional wreck. Sure, Busch is considered a brash, pain-in-the-butt by many in the sport and Gordon has the reputation of a four-time champion that time has helped mold. But none of that should factor into whether NASCAR allows Gordon to race next Sunday.
Some people might say a punishment by NASCAR would prevent rough racing in the future and continue to make a sport that has dwindling excitement even more mellow. I doubt it. NASCAR has delivered punishments for all kinds of actions on the track and in the garage area through the years, and we still end up with arguments and even fights from time to time.
It would be better for the integrity of the sport to suspend Gordon, if for nothing else than to establish a little bit of consistency in the sport’s rulings.
Others might say the Busch incident was different because he wasn't a full-time competitor in the truck series, but that shouldn't make a difference. He was on the track that night trying to win the race just as much as the other 35 drivers in that truck race, just as Gordon did Sunday against a full Cup series field.
Whether Gordon’s actions Sunday deserve a suspension will be debated for a long time, but NASCAR set a precedent last year by suspending Busch for his wreck at Texas.
That is, unless officials say they won’t suspend Gordon because he intentionally wrecked a championship contender under green-flag conditions.
Anything else would further diminish the integrity of a sport that already has enough of those problems.


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