Published April 06, 2016
Jeff Gordon got into Clint Bowyer on the track. Bowyer's crew got into it with Gordon in the pits. Bowyer made a WWE-like dash through the pits and garage to find Gordon.
The championship race heated up in the desert Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway and it had nothing to do with the weather.
Boys, have at it? They sure did.
"There's a lot of tension out there when you're running for points in the championship and things like that happen," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "We'll continue to talk to the drivers and get them to work it out. That was surely a shame."
The fireworks started with seven laps left, when Bowyer made contact with Gordon, sending him into the wall. Gordon's No. 24 car was black-flagged, but he didn't leave the track, instead waiting for Bowyer for his chance at redemption.
He got it, slowing down until Bowyer came back around, then sliding down the track when Bowyer tried to get around him on the apron between turns 1 and 2. Both cars, along with Joey Logano's No. 20, wrecked and were done for the day.
"Things just escalated over the year and I'd just had it," Gordon said. "Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it, fed up with it and got him back."
Turns out, the contact was just getting started.
After the wreck, Gordon pulled his car onto pit road and was headed toward his hauler when what seemed like Bowyer's entire team marched toward him. One of Bowyer's crew members grabbed Gordon from behind, prompting his team to run over and protect their driver.
A melee involving about two dozen ensued, with members of both teams pushing and shoving each other, some of them on the ground brawling while security tried to break it up.
Things eventually settled down and the crews went their separate ways.
It still wasn't over.
Bowyer was fuming after pulling his car up to its stall and made a dash that looked like something straight out of a wrestling show, dodging fans and crew members through the pits and garage area to Gordon's hauler. He made it up onto the platform of Gordon's hauler, but was stopped there by NASCAR officials. More pushing and shoving followed before order was restored.
"It makes us all look like a bunch of retards," Bowyer said. "It's pretty embarrassing. For a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous."
What irked Bowyer and his team most was that they had just climbed back into the championship race after points leader Jimmie Johnson wrecked.
Bowyer was 36 points behind Johnson heading into Sunday's race, needing quite a bit of help to have a shot at winning the title. He got a big dose when Johnson went into the wall with about 80 laps left and had to take his No. 48 car to the garage before returning 38 laps down.
Given new life, Bowyer was in good position, running in the top 10 as the race wound down to the final few laps.
With just six laps left, his hopes were crushed by Gordon's retaliatory strike, dropping Bowyer to 28th in the race and fourth in the standings, 52 points behind new leader Brad Keselowski heading into next week's season finale at Homestead.
"Cowardly, chicken, unbelievable that a champion, a guy that's raced for championships would get involved in a fight for a championship," said Michael Waltrip, co-owner of Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota. "Clint didn't do anything wrong. They rubbed on the back straightaway. I guess if that constitutes slowing down and purposely waiting for a guy trying to win a championship, then how am I supposed to know what's to be expected around here."
Both drivers and their crew chiefs met with NASCAR officials after the race as sheriff's deputies guarded the door.
Pemberton said they would look further into the incident this week before determining any kind of punishment.