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Penalties handed out over Phoenix fracas

13 November 2012

Jeff Gordon has received a $100,000 fine and had 25pts deducted from his championship total for his on-track retaliation against Clint Bowyer which wrecked both cars and also ended the races of Joey Logano and Aric Almirola near the finish of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Gordon had received a flat tyre after an earlier encounter with Bowyer, which had wrecked the Hendrick Motorsports driver of a probably top five finish. Gordon then stayed out on track despite a black flag ordering him to pit, expressly so that he could punt Bowyer into a spin on the penultimate scheduled lap of the race.

"I take responsibility for my actions on the race track," said Gordon in a statement issued by the team. "I accept NASCAR's decision and look forward to ending the season on a high note at Homestead."

As well as the fine and points deduction, Gordon will also be on probation through to the end of the year, although in practice the season ends next week with the finale at Homestead-Miami.

Many in the NASCAR paddock had called for the four-time champion to be suspended from the forthcoming race for his dangerous actions, as Kyle Busch was last year at Texas after he spun Ron Hornaday Jr. out in a similar act of retaliation at Texas Motor Speedway.

However, whereas Busch had a previous track record of similar offences, Gordon is widely seen as a clean driver with few past misdemeanours and so NASCAR decided not to impose such a sanction on his on this occasion.

Team owner Rick Hendrick also loses 25pts for the incident, while crew chief Alan Gustafson was placed on probation until December 31 since under NASCAR rules the crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his driver, car owner and team members.

"I've always respected Jeff for standing his ground," said Hendrick. "We also respect that NASCAR needs to police the sport and send a message when situations like this occur. It's been a great year, and we're going to put our focus on finishing in a positive way this weekend."

There were further penalties, with Bowyer's crew chief also receiving a $25,000 fine and a probation for the rest of 2012, after chaotic scenes in the pit lane which saw many of the crew of the #15 Michael Waltrip Racing car jump on Gordon as he climbed out of his car.

“We accept the penalties announced by NASCAR today and look forward to finishing what has been a breakthrough season for Michael Waltrip Racing," the team said in a statement, after having earlier apologised for the conduct of its team member in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

“The goal of Michael Waltrip Racing is to be a championship-level organization both on and off the track. The on-track incident which occurred during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway was extremely disappointing and brought raw emotions of a long and hard championship battle to the surface," the team explained. "Though we generally cannot control certain actions on the track, the unfortunate reactions off the track Sunday did not live up to the professional standards in which Michael Waltrip Racing expects all of its representatives to live by."

Team owner Michael Waltrip himself had been scathing of Gordon in post-race interviews on Sunday. "What a sad act that was by Jeff Gordon ... Cowardly, chicken and sad," he told the media even as fists were flying elsewhere on pit road.

Gordon's wrecking of Bowyer meant that the MWR driver was eliminated from contention in the 2012 Chase for the championship, another reason why Gordon's act of retaliation had been seen as such a serious matter.

"That was my opportunity to get myself back into the championship hunt," Bowyer said on Sunday. "When you disrupt a championship hunt like that, it's too bad. They ask us not to do that at the drivers meeting and there's usually a lot of respect there. It's crazy ... It's pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion."

Championship leader Brad Keselowski had been equally critical of the incident. "These guys just tried to kill each other," he told reporters. "It's just [expletive] ridiculous, and they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."

Keselowski wasn't sanctioned for using profane language in post-race media interviews - but he did receive a surprise $25,000 fine of his own for using his mobile phone to tweet messages from his car while the field was stopped under a red flag for the Gordon/Bowyer incident. Keselowski will also be under probation for the rest of the year, but crucially does not lose any championship points.

Keselowski's penalty is because of a NASCAR rule that allows the use of digital communications devices from the car during a race, which includes mobile phones. That's to ensure that teams can't sent messages to their drivers during the race that can't be monitored by NASCAR officials.

Keselowski got away with a similar incident during the Daytona 500 when he tweeted from the track during a red flag for Juan Montoya's impact into the back of a jet dryer, but all drivers and teams were subsequently reminded of the rule and told that any new occurrence would be penalised.

No other penalties were handed out on Monday, and Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, indicated that no further sanctions would be announced as a result of the Phoenix fracas, which also saw a chaotic green-white-chequered finish with multiple spins as a result of oil on the track. The owner of the winning car on Sunday, Richard Childress, had been very vocal in his criticism of NASCAR's failure to throw a caution flag in time.

“Following a thorough analysis of the actions that took place during Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, we have issued penalties based upon our review. The decisions announced today cover NASCAR's full assessment of penalties for the incidents that occurred," he said.

“There's no doubt that a unique set of circumstances combined with a championship battle on the line resulted in raw emotions coming into play. We consider the penalties appropriate and those involved understand our decision and we expect them to abide by them.”


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