In the aftermath of Sunday’s chaotic finish to the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR has some big decisions to make. And the result could be one of the most significant penalties in the sport’s history – the parking of a “name” driver whose accomplishments ring across two decades of record books.
The possibility of NASCAR lowering the boom on Jeff Gordon – not allowing him to participate in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – seemed very real as teams packed up from the Phoenix wreckfest and mayhem and officials began the unpleasant task of piecing together what happening in the race’s closing laps and in the violent and tense moments that followed in the track’s garage area.
Gordon’s wrecking of Clint Bowyer late in the race was clearly a premeditated act, a fact Gordon admitted after the race. “They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do just like I had to do what I had to do,’’ Gordon said of the possibility of being penalized.
Of course, there is any number of penalties NASCAR could pick for Gordon, including taking away points or collecting dollars. A decision is expected to be made by Tuesday.
Although video of the incidents and the aftermath are likely to be used in NASCAR promos for months to come, NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton wanted to move away from the chaos of Phoenix late Sunday afternoon.
“The best thing is to meet with the teams and meet with the drivers, try to put this behind us and go on to Homestead and finish the season off,” Pemberton said.
Pemberton, NASCAR president Mike Helton and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby met with Gordon, Bowyer and their crew chiefs in the NASCAR mobile office after the race.
There is the possibility of a raft of penalties. The rolling fight and secondary pushing and shoving in the garage area after the race involved dozens of people, in particular members of the Gordon and Bowyer teams. Bowyer team members appeared to start the incident by going after Gordon a few minutes after the race.
The fight escalated from there as members of the 24 team tried to protect Gordon and NASCAR officials jumped into the middle of the pile in an attempt to break up the activity.
Tempers continued to boil as Bowyer climbed from his car and ran – reporters, crew members and others trying to keep pace – to Gordon’s hauler, where a NASCAR official stopped him from entering.
“We remind the drivers to be as fair and square as you can about things,” Pemberton said. “It looks like the tempers got away with the best of them out there today.”
The frantic final laps and the race’s aftermath spread talk across social media like wildfire, as fans lined up behind Gordon or Bowyer. Drivers had their say, too.
Denny Hamlin posted on Twitter that “The 24 (Gordon) should be parked! He took out 5 cars in that BS!”
As observers debated the Gordon vs. Bowyer situation, the incident most often mentioned in comparisons was Kyle Busch’s wrecking of Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Camping World Truck Series race last year at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch slammed Hornaday’s truck into the outside wall at a high rate of speed during a caution period.
In a rare major penalty, NASCAR parked Busch for the remaining races – Nationwide and Sprint Cup – at Texas that weekend.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.