Phoenix 'not my proudest moment' admits Gordon
17 November 2012
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.
"If we had to do it all over again, could it have been handled a different way?" mused Hendrick. "I don't think Jeff intended to wreck him that bad or wreck him at all; move him, let him know he didn't like it, sure didn't want to get the other cars involved."
Gordon confirmed that he had never intended for the retaliation to go the way that it actually did.
"I think everybody thinks I just intentionally went down there and wrecked him, and that's not the case," he insisted. "I wanted to make his life really miserable, and I wanted to make my car really, really wide, but I wasn't expecting him to go diving down the inside on the apron, and when he did, it caused us to hook and caused what ended up being a terrible accident.
"Afterwards, did it sit well with me knowing that that took his hopes out? No. He's also a guy I would consider a friend. There's a lot of things that didn't sit well with me after the fact," he continued. "I allowed my anger and my emotions to put me in a position to make a bad choice. I felt like that Clint needed to be dealt with, but that wasn't the right way to go about it, certainly not the right time.
"What I hate most about it is that other guys were involved with it and it affected their day," he added. "The situation got escalated because I lost control of my emotions and let that put me into a decision that obviously wasn't a good one."
Joey Logano had said that he'd tried to reach out to Gordon during the week and been hung up on. Gordon acknowledged the call, and admitted that the short conversation hadn't gone smoothly, but that he hoped to rectify the situation face-to-face over the weekend.
"I'm not one that calls right away," Gordon explained. "I like things to kind of settle down. I'd really rather do face to face, but he called me and so I called him back, and I can't say it went exactly very well. I reached out to him again to try to get together with him here at the track, and I have not been able to speak with him."
As for the object of his retaliation: "I have not spoken to Clint other than at the track on Sunday after the event in the NASCAR hauler," he confirmed. "I've been wrecked, I've been caught up in other people's wrecks, I've been on both sides of it, all sides of it throughout all these years, and I didn't expect a phone call, I didn't expect somebody to come and spend an hour with me explaining things.
"I wrecked Martin Truex a couple years ago at Sonoma, and I was racing Juan Pablo behind me, got in the corner two deep and ran into him, completely my fault, and I reached out to him because I felt bad about it," he recalled. "You know what, he and I never spoke. I left him a voicemail, but we never spoke, never spoke at a racetrack, nothing, and we raced hard for, shoot, a year and a half of me racing him for position, sliding inside, doing everything I could not to wreck him to show him that this is how I'm going to treat you, and he raced me as hard as you can possibly race me knowing that he had that against me.
"That's kind of the way that I like to go about things. Somebody does something to me [then] I'm going to try to race them back in the same way they raced me," he explained. " If something happened by accident, then I'm going to understand that; I'm going to make them kind of pay the price for making a dumb move, but at the same time, I'm going to be as respectful as I can over the situation.
"You know, every situation is unique, and I can't control what's going to happen out there or what other guys are going to do against me this weekend, "he added. "If they're having a really bad day and feel like they have nothing to lose, then maybe they will. We'll see. I prefer it to be handled on the racetrack, though. I'm not the biggest guy in the world, and kind of one of the reasons I got into racing. We're all the same out there.
"All I can do now is look ahead and look forward and try to come in here and do the best that I can to close out the season on a positive note," summed up Gordon. And after that, it was definitely time for a long break from the pressure cooker atmosphere of the 36-race NASCAR Cup season.
"I always ‑ it doesn't matter how the season has gone ‑ look forward to taking a little time off," he said. "Our season is long, but when you've had a season like I've had, then yeah, you're definitely looking forward to taking a little break, spending some time with family.
"But it's also a very busy time," he added. "It's just not a busy time at the race track preparing for a race." Before you know it, it'll be time to load up the haulers once again for their journey to the 2013 season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, where the ghosts of feuds past, present and future will doubtless once more factor into the race equation.