Four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon has admitted to regrets about his actions last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, which saw him retaliate against Clint Bowyer with a move that not only wiped out both cars but also caught up Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the wreck in the closing laps of the penultimate race of the year.
"You know, I've been through a lot of moments throughout my career, some that I was more proud of than others," said Gordon at Homestead-Miami on Friday. "This is definitely not one of my proudest moments, but I also understand what kind of led up to it and I stand by that."
Gordon was fined $100,000, put on probation and docked 25pts in the drivers' and owners' championships for his actions at Phoenix, and was lucky not to be benched altogether for the season finale. The obvious immediate cause of the dispute was contact between the two which left Gordon with a flat tyre and out of the race after having been up in the top six with just a dozen laps remaining in last weekend's race.
"There was absolutely no reason to run into me," insisted Gordon. "It's not just a one‑way street. We were racing for fourth in points in that race, and so there was a lot on the line for us as well as for them, and so I think that it just wasn't very smart of Clint to run into me coming off of turn 2 on the straightaway, almost cut my left rear tyre down - and know that we had past history this year."
It fell to car owner Rick Hendrick to explain that reference to the real long-term cause of last weekend's conflict, which went a lot further back all the way to Martinsville in April when Bowyer caused Gordon and his team mate Jimmie Johnson to wreck.
"I don't expect anybody in here to really understand this as much as maybe Jeff and I do, but at Martinsville this year, we was going for our 200th win," said Hendrick, who lost his brother, son and two nieces in a plane crash at Martinsville in 2004 - which had made the prospect of a 200th win there all the more emotional for all involved.
"The 200th win at Martinsville meant so much to all of us because we lost so much there, admitted Hendrick. "And that was taken away from us. Both of our cars were wrecked on the last lap and next‑to‑last lap and it was by the #15 car ... I have never hurt as bad in my life leaving the racetrack as I did that day. It took me a week or so to get over it just because we had it in our grasp. And that's just emotions that we carry and nobody else.
"You didn't see our guys go down there and fight in the pits; we didn't do any of that," he added, referring to the way that Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing crew had run down pit lane to pounce on Gordon as he got out of his wrecked car at Phoenix.
"I think that situation along with some other things that happened along the way, you know, you don't forget it," Hendrick said. " What happened happened, and I agree with Jeff, I like Michael Waltrip, I like Rob Kauffman, I like Richard Petty, I like Clint Bowyer, I like all those guys.