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Clint Bowyer Brings New Meaning to “The Chase”

Gordon Wrecks Bowyer in Chase
Gordon Wrecks Bowyer in Chase

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With just two races remaining in the NASCAR season and “The Chase,” NASCAR’s equivalent of their playoffs, these should be the fun times – the exciting times. Going into Chase race #9 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, November 11 it certainly was shaping up as an epic season concluding nail-biter much like 2011. (Last year it came down to the very last, final race of the year with just a mere three points separating Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart moving into Homestead-Miami Raceway on November 20.)

Going into Phoenix this year the “Chase” leader board was vaguely similar to 2011. Five-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson held the #1 spot, but just six points ahead of Brad Keselowski and 36 points ahead of third place driver, Clint Bowyer. The remaining nine drivers in the 12 driver field of Chase qualifiers including four-time Champion, Jeff Gordon were pretty much out of contention.

The Chase leader board got completely shook up in Lap 309 and perhaps changed the entire conclusion of the Championship playoffs as a result of the purposeful actions of one long-time and legendary driver. With just 2 laps remaining, Jeff Gordon (#24) ranked sixth on the Chase leader board, was running just ahead of Clint Bowyer’s #15 car when, inexplicably Gordon held up in Turn 4 to allow Bowyer to move underneath of him in a passing maneuver. At just the right moment, Gordon accelerated to make full contact with Bowyer’s #15 in a direct side collision.

Both cars spun out of control, pin-balling off of other vehicles in the vicinity and simultaneously taking out Joey Logano’s #20 before all three ended in the wall inflicting damage impossible to repair to finish the race.

Gordon navigated his damaged vehicle to Pit Road and his crew. It was there that all hell broke loose. Bowyer’s entire crew converged on Gordon’s vehicle, the driver and Gordon’s Dupont crew as a full blown melee broke out with punches being thrown in every direction and numerous participants on both sides involved. Gordon was quickly ushered away to his hauler while the two team crews continue to hurl away.

Moments later enter “Captain Bowyer,” who had finally extracted himself from his wrecked 5-Hour Energy Drink Toyota was televised running down Pit Road, out of the main track area, through the garage zone and to the driver haulers on a bee-line to get to Jeff Gordon’s residence. Bowyer never actually encountered Gordon – until after the race in NASCAR-officiated meetings.

10 laps later, Chase driver Kevin Harvick (ranked 11th) won a race that had absolutely no meaning in his ability to win an ultimate Championship. For Bowyer however, it completely ruined any chance he could have had of winning it all. Bowyer ended the race in 28th which dropped him back to 4th in the Chase, and 52 points out of the lead, a virtually impossible deficit to overcome with just one race remaining.

If there was any doubt about Gordon’s intention he cleared it up to reporters later:

“It’s just things have gotten escalated over the year, and I’ve just had it. Clint’s 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 and was fed up with it and got him back.”

Bowyer similarly spoke with the media following the required NASCAR post-race incident meetings:

“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. I barely touched him and then I feel him get into Turn 3 and try to turn me. He missed, and then the next thing I know Brett (Griffin, spotter) is telling me on the radio that he’s waiting on me. I didn’t even need to pass him. All I was doing was riding around, biding my time. It’s crazy. I didn’t even need to pass him. I was plenty content riding behind him. He slipped up, I get under him and here he comes back. I literally barely rubbed him and all the sudden I feel him trying to retaliate.”

Last season, with just three races remaining in the Chase last season, Kyle Busch was suspended and “parked” from participating in Chase race #8 for purposefully wrecking Ron Hornaday in a NASCAR sanctioned truck race. Under those precedent circumstances one would have expected Gordon to be suspended for his intentional demolition derby with the possibility of Bowyer being similarly parked for his post-wreck activity.

Instead NASCAR leveled their sanctions the day immediately following the race with a bit of inconsistency. Gordon was not suspended. Instead he was fined $100,000, docked 25 Chase points, and placed on probation through December 31. Clint Bowyer was not penalized however his crew chief, Brian Pattie, was fined $25,000 and placed on probation for the brawl that erupted between the two teams.

Going into Sunday, November 18th final Chase race at Homestead-Miami Speedway it seems it’s Brad Keselowski’s Championship to lose. Gone is the final race tension we experienced just a season previous. Keselowski currently sits atop the leader board 20 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and an overwhelming 50 points ahead of Kasey Kahne.

So, the race won’t even be worth watching? Well, not so fast there. Bowyer, who now has no hope of winning this year’s Championship, was quoted as saying he has not ruled out his own personal retaliation at Gordon in Miami. It may just be worth flipping over to during Sunday’s football viewing.