Gordon's meltdown was out of the ordinary for former champ

Posted: November 15, 2012

BEFORE WE MOVE on to Sunday's Chase finale and a likely Brad Keselowski championship, we can't let the "Fiasco in Phoenix" slide by. Jeff Gordon's rare demonstration of redneck road rage will be talked about for a long time.

Late in the race, Gordon purposely wrecked Clint Bowyer, saying later he was retaliating for an earlier bumping by Bowyer and incidents in previous races with Bowyer.

Gordon has usually been a classy spokesman and ambassador for NASCAR. My sense is, Gordon was a victim of temporary insanity, as we used to say with the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies. The four-time champion is frustrated that he hasn't won a Sprint Cup title since 2001.

Gordon should have waited and confronted Bowyer after they were out of their cars on pit road or in the garage area. Some shoving, perhaps a few punches thrown and then both crews would have intervened.

Before Phoenix, Bowyer was third in Chase points. He was running fifth with a few laps to go when Gordon lost it. Now, Bowyer is fourth. His crew chief, Brian Pattie, hinted that Bowyer might retaliate Sunday "if we have nothing to lose." I doubt if anything will happen in Homestead, Fla., but next year is another story, as long as NASCAR allows its "Have at it, boys" mindset.

NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 and docked him 25 points, relegating him to 11th in the Chase standings. After a poor start in the Chase, Gordon had worked his way up to sixth place. Now, his season will be known for losing his cool at Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Keselowski carries a 20-point lead into Homestead. If he finishes 15th or better, he'll win his first Cup title. He also can clinch if he finishes 16th and leads one lap.

Keselowski's record at Homestead isn't anything to tweet home to Michigan about: His average finish is 20.4 in four races. Second-place driver Jimmie Johnson, who won five straight Chases from 2006 through 2010. has four top-five finishes at Homestead. Neither has ever won at the track. Keselowski and Johnson have five wins each this season, including two each in the Chase.

Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief, wisely plans a business-as-usual approach to Homestead.

"Our mind-set going is not a whole lot different than what we've done the first nine races of the chase," Wolfe said on a conference call. "We just want to continue doing the things we've done up to this point, and we feel if we do that, we should have a shot to close this deal out on Sunday.

"The guys have done a great job to this point on the Miller Lite Dodge, and, they're preparing the car as we would any other week and just trying to stay in our normal routine. The last thing we need to do is try to do something we've been doing different all season. I think that's how mistakes are possibly made."

Asked what has put Keselowski, in only his third full Cup season, on the threshold of a championship, Wolfe said: "I think it's his dedication and drive to be a champion, all the hard work he puts in. He's a great leader to this team. He's a great motivator, and he's a guy that I see is not willing to give up. He'll do whatever it takes to find success.

While both Keselowski, 28, and Wolfe, 35, seem levelheaded, this will be their first time with all eyes on them. What if something goes wrong?

"We've always got to be prepared for the worst," Wolfe said. "We've done the best job we can preparing for this weekend's event. Something that this team's done really well is being able to overcome adversity over the last couple years. So we're going to just do the best job at controlling the things we can, and we'll do the best we can at dealing with any situation that may come up."

Wolfe, from Milford, N.Y., is in his second full season with Keselowski. From 2003-05, Wolfe made 16 starts as a driver in the Nationwide Series.

A Keselowski victory celebration would be good for NASCAR. The sport needs more of its younger drivers to step into the spotlight.

A Keselowski victory would bring team owner Roger Penske's first title in the Cup series after 12 in Indy car racing (plus 15 Indianapolis 500 wins). It also would give Dodge a special send-off as it leaves NASCAR. Might also help Dodge think about returning to NASCAR soon.

THIS WEEK'S RACE

Ford 400

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead, Fla.

When: Sunday, 3 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Race course: 1.5-mile oval

Race distance: 267 laps/400 miles

Race forecast: mostly sunny, high70s

Last year's winner: Tony Stewart

Last year's pole: Carl Edwards, 175.467 mph

Track qualifying record: Jamie McMurray, 181.111 mph (November 2003)

Track facts: This isthe finale of the 2012 Sprint Cup season . . . In last year's race, Tony Stewart held off Carl Edwards to clinch his third championship. Stewart led 65 laps, including the last 36. Edwards led the most laps, 119. Stewart and Greg Biffle are three-time winners at Homestead . . . Weird stat of the season: Kyle Busch has led the most laps the past two races and finished third both times. He also led the most laps in at least four other races, but didn't win. We still cannot believe he's not a Chaser . . . Kevin Harvick's win at Phoenix was his first in 44 races . . . Danica Patrick's 17th place at Phoenix was her best Cup finish in 10 starts this season . . . The inaugural Formula One race in Austin, Texas, will air on Speed Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Speed's coverage includes the first practice on the new 20-turn, 3.427-mile track Friday at 10 a.m. . . . Kyle Larson had an impressive debut in the Camping World Truck Series at Phoenix. The Drive for Diversity product was edged by Brian Scott in a green-white-checkered flag finish. Larson also is scheduled to race Friday night at Homestead.

Wins: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, 5 each; Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth, 3 each; Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, 2 each; Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, 1 each.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP CHASE

STANDINGS

1. Brad Keselowski 2,371

2. Jimmie Johnson 2,351

3. Kasey Kahne 2,321

4. Clint Bowyer 2,319

5. Denny Hamlin 2,309

6. Matt Kenseth 2,297

7. Greg Biffle 2,293

8. Kevin Harvick 2,285

9. Tony Stewart 2,284

10. Martin Truex Jr. 2,260

11. Jeff Gordon 2,256

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,211

SCHEDULE

Sept. 16: Chicagoland (winner: Keselowski)

Sept. 23: New Hampshire M.S. (Hamlin)

Sept. 30: Dover Int'l Speedway (Keselowski)

Oct. 7: Talladega Superspeedway (Kenseth)

Oct. 13: Charlotte Motor Speedway (Bowyer)

Oct. 21: Kansas Speedway (Kenseth)

Oct. 28: Martinsville Speedway (Johnson)

Nov. 4: Texas Motor Speedway (Johnson)

Nov. 11: Phoenix Int'l Raceway (Harvick)

Nov. 18: Homestead-Miami Speedway (2 p.m., ESPN)

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