Hot in Phoenix
Penultimate race sets exciting bar for Homestead finale
By RICK MINTER /
In theory, NASCAR’s highest drama of the season should come at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend as the sanctioning body’s top three series race one last time to decide three championships.
But it’ll be hard to produce enough excitement to overshadow the events of the final 85 laps of Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
In that relatively short stretch of racing, Jimmie Johnson, who entered the weekend seven points up on second-place Brad Keselowski, blew a tire and crashed into the wall. After his 32nd-place finish, he’s 20 points down.
Then, with the checkered flag in sight, Clint Bowyer, then third in the standings and still with an outside shot at the championship, was intentionally wrecked by Jeff Gordon, touching off a brawl among the two teams.
When the track was cleared, the field took off on a green-white-checkered run to the finish. But Danica Patrick, having the best run of her Cup career, was wrecked by Jeff Burton. NASCAR officials, in a controversial move, left the green flag flying, and a host of drivers wrecked on the frontstretch when they ran into oil leaked from Patrick’s car.
Kevin Harvick, who is apparently leaving his Richard Childress Racing team after next season, won.
Keselowski, who narrowly escaped serious damage in the Gordon incident and in the Patrick wreck, still finished sixth, but he was among the angriest in his post-race interview.
He lashed out at his peers and some in the press who had been critical of his racing Johnson so hard in the closing laps the week before at Texas, but seemed to enjoy the exchange between Gordon and Bowyer.
“It just drives me absolutely crazy that I get lambasted for racing somebody hard without there even being a wreck, and then you see stuff like this [at Phoenix], and that’s OK, from the same people that criticized me,” he 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, and that’s ridiculous.” He said retaliatory moves like the one Gordon pulled on Bowyer are not what NASCAR 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,” he said. “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.” Gordon stood his ground and offered no apology.
“Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” he said of his encounter with Bowyer. “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 I got him back.”
Harvick, in his winner’s interview, indicated that he could be counted among those who liked the additional excitement that a melee brings.
“The sport was made on fights,” he said. “They’re not always fun to be in. Sometimes you’re on the wrong end. But fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”
NASCAR on Monday fined Gordon $100,000, docked him 25 points and placed him on probation for the rest of the season along with his crew chief Alan Gustafson. Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie was fined $25,000 and placed on probation. Both crew chiefs were penalized because they’re responsible for the actions of their driver and crew. Keselowski was fined $25,000 and placed on probation for carrying his cell phone in his car.