NASCAR has always been a sport where truth is stranger than fiction ever could be.
Sometimes the unbelievable stories are tales of joy and triumph, like Trevor Bayne winning the 2011 Daytona 500 in only his second NASCAR Sprint Cup start, one day after he turned 20. And he did so driving for Wood Brothers Racing, a part-time team that had gone almost a decade without a victory.
Then there was Alan Kulwicki winning the 1992 championship because he led one more lap than Bill Elliott in the final race of the year, which just happened to be Richard Petty’s last Sprint Cup race and Jeff Gordon’s first. You can’t make that stuff up.
And sometimes the unreal sagas are tragic, as was the case when Dale Earnhardt died in the last corner of the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, seconds before Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line 1-2 in Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolets, Waltrip winning after going 0-for-462 up to the that point in his career.
Then there are races like Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway that are plain head scratchers.
At the 1.5-mile South Florida track, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer finished 1-2, just seven days after Gordon drilled Bowyer into the wall in the closing laps at Phoenix International Raceway, triggering a massive crew brawl in the garage and earning Gordon a $100,000 fine as well as a 25-point penalty.
And while there was much chest puffing after Phoenix and charges and countercharges by both drivers dating back to the spring Martinsville race, where Gordon led 329 laps only to get wrecked along with teammate Jimmie Johnson when Bowyer made an ill-advised dive to the bottom of the track on a green-white-checkered restart.
But Sunday at Homestead, there were no such histrionics, with Gordon taking the checkered flag at Homestead by a comfortable 1.028 seconds.
Afterward, Bowyer was willing to put the bad blood with Gordon behind — at least for the time being.
Asked by a reporter if last week’s fracas went through his mind in the closing laps, Bowyer said it didn’t.
“I just really wanted to catch the 24 (Gordon),” said Bowyer. “That was the only ‘what if’ that went through my mind at the end. Probably went through your mind, too. No, I wouldn't have took us both out.”
And then Bowyer paused.
“But just what an unbelievable way to cap — What the hell are we doing what ifs for? It's over,” he said. “We could have done what ifs last week. I'm done with what ifs.”
Gordon, understandably, preferred to focus on his victory and not last week’s mayhem.
“I felt terrible about how I went about it and still regret the way I went about it but you know what, I can't take it back,” said Gordon, who won his 87th career Sprint Cup race at Homestead. “What we can do is look forward and race guys as hard and clean as we possibly can and, you know, this is a great way to get some positive things going because this year has been real up and down.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.