Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 13, 2012

DE LA BASTIDE: NASCAR officials need to give Gordon a timeout

Keselowski is in control of Chase

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune columnist

— The past few years have been frustrating for Jeff Gordon and that frustration finally manifested Sunday at Phoenix, in an uncharact-eristic manner.

Gordon and Clint Bowyer have had a long history in 2012 of on-track incidents and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when contact sent Gordon into the pits for an unscheduled stop to change tires.

Gordon returned to the race and waited in ambush for Bowyer to come around for a pass with two laps remaining. Gordon intentionally drove into Bowyer’s Toyota, taking out Joey Logano in the process and almost ending title contender Brad Keselowski’s day.

Once Gordon and Bowyer returned to the pit and garage areas, there was plenty of pushing and shoving between the two teams and perhaps a punch or two thrown and landed.

Both drivers met with NASCAR officials while sheriff deputies waited outside the NASCAR hauler to escort Gordon back to his motor home.

For his actions on the track, NASCAR officials should have told Gordon to stay away from Miami for the last race of the season — they should have ended his season. Instead he was fined a meaningless $100,000 and 25 championship points. Gordon is a millionaire several times over and is already out of the championship hunt.

There is very little difference between what Gordon did on Sunday and what Kyle Busch did during a truck race when he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday. The only obvious difference was that Busch wrecked Hornaday during a caution period.

I guess it could be said that once NASCAR officials informed the drivers to “have at it,” this was going to be the eventual outcome.

Bowyer should be fined and docked points for running from his car, which was parked on pit road, to the No. 24 team’s hauler to partake in the war of words and physical contact. He escaped any punishment, but his crew chief was docked $25,000.

Gordon’s actions are not the way a four-time champion should represent the sport. He needs to be parked for at least one race and fined.

The Phoenix race was chaotic at best and the finish was disappointing in several aspects.

Danica Patrick crashed on the final lap and no caution flag was waved. NASCAR normally throws a caution flag for a one-car spin, even when the driver keeps going.

This time there was no caution flag displayed which would have resulted in a green-white-checkered finish. Maybe NASCAR officials were concerned the front runners were low on fuel and wouldn’t be able to complete three or four more laps.

Patrick also is at fault for not pulling onto pit road and continuing down the front straight. Oil from her car resulted in slick conditions for the drivers racing to the finish and caused a multi-car accident.

NASCAR needs to be consistent when it comes to caution flags.

It’s almost a certainty that Keselowski is going to win the Sprint Cup championship, which would be the first for car owner Roger Penske. Keselowski’s sixth-place finish combined with the 32nd-place run of Jimmie Johnson, after a flat right front tire put him in the wall, has the Dodge driver 20 points up with one race remaining.

Even if Johnson wins at Miami and leads the most laps, Keselowski only has to finish in the top 15 to secure the championship.

Only an early race mechanical problem or an on-track incident would keep Keselowski from winning the title.

It would be a good way for Dodge to leave NASCAR for the foreseeable future. The last time Dodge won a championship was in 1975 with Richard Petty behind the wheel.

Ken de la Bastide may be reached at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com or

765-454-8580.