Gordon/Bowyer melee mars AdvoCar500; Keselowski turns tables on Johnson in points battle
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Once the smoke cleared, the cars (or what was left of them) were loaded and the Sunday sun set over Phoenix International Raceway, a new championship landscape had emerged in NASCAR. But tempers as hot and raw as the surrounding Sonora Desert shifted the focus of the Sprint Cup Series’ AdvoCare 500 from said title battle—and the race’s previously-MIA winner—to wrecked racecars, fist fights and talk of on-track payback.
Kevin Harvick, last seen in Victory Lane following a Cup Series event in Sept. 2011, led the final 15 laps to notch his third career Cup win in Avondale, Ariz.
However, a shakeup atop the Chase standings took center stage when Jimmie Johnson—the points leader entering the race—spent over 20 laps behind the wall after his right front tire’s bead melted, resulting in a hard hit to his No. 48 Chevy. That opened the door for Brad Keselowski to execute a 27-point swing by finishing sixth in the event while Johnson limped to a 32nd-place showing, and regain the points lead by a daunting 20 markers with one race remaining in the 2012 campaign.
But a dose of on-track retribution and off-track fisticuffs trumped even the championship fight, as Jeff Gordon wrecked Clint Bowyer with just over one lap remaining in the scheduled 312-lap event. Gordon, upset with Bowyer for contact that wounded his No. 24 moments earlier and for incidents that he deemed had “escalated over the year,” waited on the latter and hooked him into the Turn 4 wall. The crash also swept up Aric Almirola and Joey Logano and nearly involved Keselowski, who was able to scoot low to avoid the mess of tangled cars.
As Gordon exited his demolished car in the garage, Bowyer’s team rushed to the scene and engaged the No. 24 team in what resembled a Wild West bar room brawl in Tombstone.
Gordon was ushered into his hauler without contact while Bowyer emerged from his injured vehicle on pit road and sprinted into the garage where he attempted to confront Gordon but was unsuccessful.
“Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me,” a curt Gordon said as he exited the track. “He got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I had it. That was it, and I got him back.”
Said Bowyer: “I barely touched him and then I feel him get into Turn 3 and try to turn me and he missed and then next thing I know Brett’s (Griffin, spotter) telling me on the radio that he’s waiting on me. 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 that is just completely ridiculous.”
Photo by ASP, Inc.
The incident also ended any title aspirations Bowyer may have had, however slim.
“That was my opportunity to try to get myself back in the championship hunt,” Bowyer said. “When you’re disrupting a championship run like that, it’s too bad. They ask us not to do that in the drivers’ meeting and there’s usually a lot of respect there.”
The drama was far from over, though, as the field went back to racing in a green-white-checker restart. With Harvick holding off Kyle Busch—who led a race-high 237 laps—Danica Patrick was spun in Turn 3 but no caution was displayed. As she slowly rolled her car away, an oil slick was visible in Turns 3 and 4 and down the frontstretch.
As the pack raced at speed through the oil, cars began bouncing off one another with the checkered flag in the air, triggering an accident that collected a half dozen cars. Even Keselowski got a piece of the action, but managed to bull through to finish sixth.
Denny Hamlin, Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 5.
The post-race fallout, however, centered around the Gordon/Bowyer skirmish.
“The sport was made on fights. We should have more fights,” a victorious Harvick deadpanned. “I like fights. They’re not always fun to be in—sometimes you’re on the wrong end—but fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”
His simplistic, if not tongue-in-cheek, opinions were not reflected by the new points leader.
“It just drives me absolutely crazy that I get lambasted for racing somebody hard (the previous week in Texas) without there even being a wreck and then you see stuff like this, and that’s OK from the same people that criticized me,” Keselowski said. “It’s OK to just take somebody out, but you race somebody hard, put a fender on somebody and try to go for the win, and you’re an absolute villain. That’s ridiculous.
“But then we can just go out and retaliate against each other and come back in and smile about it, and it’s fine? That’s not what this sport needs. It needs hard racing, it needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all out there on the line, not a bunch of people that have anger issues. That’s not good for anybody, and it really hurt my feelings to be a part of a Chase race for the championship and have that jeopardized from people that can’t keep control of their emotions.”
Keselowki goes to the season finale having only to finish 15th in Sunday’s Ford 400—and that’s if Johnson leads the most laps and wins the race.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of control, or all control, in the championship,” Johnson said. “We can go down there and win the race and do everything on our behalf and it still won’t net us a championship. So, we’ll go down and do our part and just see how things unfold. Today was proof that anything can happen in this sport and we’ll see how things shake out in Miami.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
It’s been almost 19 years since a 20-year-old Jeff Gordon made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start. The day was November 15, 1992; the race the Hooter’s 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. And it would go down as the most notable of the sport’s modern era.
Gordon making his first start, Richard Petty his last; six drivers entered the season finale with a mathematical shot at the title; the underfunded, single-car outfit of Alan Kulwicki edged Junior Johnson’s powerhouse team headed by Bill Elliott for the championship by outsmarting it. It’s a race talked about to this day and revered for its significance.
Fast forward to a 40-year-old Gordon, now a four-time champion and elder statesman of the sport. He may never catch Richard Petty’s unattainable 200 wins, but win No. 85 placed him alone in third on NASCAR’s all-time wins list — and the sight of the achievement came at a track that will always be linked to Gordon: Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I’ve always enjoyed this racetrack,” Gordon said. “Running my first race here, winning some big races here, celebrating championships here — this place has always been a place I’ve enjoyed going to.”
Gordon fought protégé teammate and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in a thrilling dogfight over the final 11 laps at AMS to win the AdvoCare 500.
“To me (this race) is going to stand out in my mind because it’s a great victory,” Gordon said. “And certainly when you’re battling with a guy as talented as Jimmie and a team as good as they are, it’s definitely going to be one (a win) that’s significant.”
The race was delayed nearly two days after heavy rains from what was Tropical Depression Lee saturated the Atlanta area, postponing Sunday’s Labor Day weekend race to Tuesday morning. Gordon, who started fifth, found the race lead by lap 46 and led 100 of the next 156 laps. On lap 202, the race went into a rain-induced caution and red-flag period. Another yellow for rain followed just one lap after the field had gone back to green.
Matt Kenseth, who led 64 laps, had taken control of the race by then, followed closely by Gordon, Johnson and Carl Edwards.
An accident involving Mark Martin and Regan Smith on lap 251 brought out the event’s final caution. Johnson, Edwards, Kenseth and Gordon occupied the first two rows when the race went green, and Johnson sprinted out to a decisive lead.
Gordon picked off the contenders one-by-one, though, passing Kenseth for third with 64 laps to go and Edwards for second with 60 remaining. Eleven laps later, he squeezed by Johnson and led for eight laps.
Green flag pit stops for fresh tires and gas found Gordon with a shrunken advantage over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate as the field’s stops cycled through. And although the duo sparred, slid and roared door-to-door through the race’s final dozen laps, Gordon never relinquished the lead.
“I just didn’t have enough to get by (Gordon),” Johnson said of the final duel. “I got inside of him a couple times, got to the outside once, and just didn’t have enough regroup to kind of get there and stay there. The time I got to the outside of him, I felt I was going to be in good shape. But I think we had a lap car get in the way there and use me as a pick a little bit, couldn’t complete the pass.”
Tony Stewart charged through the top 10 over the final 70 laps to finish third. Kurt Busch and Edwards rounded out the top 5.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth, but more importantly, secured one of the two wild card spots in the Chase. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman also clinched Chase berths based on points earned.