Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR

Throwback Thursday Theater – Tempers Flare in the Valley of the Sun

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

It takes a lot to get Jeff Gordon riled up, but when the Cup Series visited Phoenix in November 2012, the four-time series champion had decided he’d had enough.

Gordon and Clint Bowyer had been embroiled in a feud stemming from contact at Martinsville earlier in the year and with the season winding to a close, contact between the two at Phoenix just sent the Hendrick Motorsports driver over the edge.

As the two were battling for a spot in the top-five with less than 15 laps to go, Gordon and Bowyer made contact twice through the backstretch dogleg, cutting the tire down on Gordon’s car and sending him into the outside wall. With his chances of a decent finish up in smoke, he set his sights on making sure that Bowyer couldn’t finish near the front either.

“Where is he? I’m getting his ass!” Gordon could be overheard saying on the radio after the contact.

Driving slowly around the track, Gordon laid in wait until Bowyer caught up with him. Entering Turn 3 on lap 312, Bowyer attempted to pass underneath Gordon to get by him, but Gordon had other plans, turning Bowyer head-on into the wall and collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process.

“That was a real act of a champion,” said Bowyer’s spotter, Brett Griffin over the radio. “The most cowardly, non-championship s*** I’ve ever seen in my life. What a coward. What a bunch of chicken s*** that was.”

Gordon limped his car back to the garage area and upon exiting the car, was swarmed by crew members from Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing team. Gordon’s crew also jumped into the melee, pulling Gordon from the ensuing chaos as the brawl continued.

Meanwhile, Bowyer had parked his mangled car on pit road and quickly climbed out before taking off in a dead sprint for the garage looking to get in on the action and give Gordon a piece of his mind. Bowyer made it all the way to the door of Gordon’s hauler before being stopped by NASCAR officials, with his team then taking him back to their hauler to cool off.

“That is f****** chicken***! I’m going to punch him right in the f****** nose.  As soon as he comes out of that trailer, he’s getting his ass beat!” a heated Bowyer said to his crew.

Eventually everyone would get calmed down after a trip to the NASCAR hauler to have a chat with the top NASCAR brass at the track, but it was obvious that there was no love lost between the two after their Phoenix run-in.

“Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” said Gordon.  “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.”

Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson echoed his driver’s sentiments after the race, saying: “It’s about the fifth time that he’s run us over. After a while, you get really frustrated with that. We all work really hard on these cars and Jeff races everybody with a lot of respect. Evidently, he’d had enough. If you’re going to play that way, if you’re going to race that way, you shouldn’t be upset when you get it back.”

The crash erased any shot that Bowyer had at the championship as he was still mathematically alive in the championship race before getting wrecked by Gordon.

“I’ve never seen anything like what Jeff Gordon did to a guy racing for a championship,” said Bowyer’s car owner, Michael Waltrip. “A cowardly, chicken move by someone who has raced for championships before and knows how important every position is. You know, they barely brushed on the back straightaway and he waits. Purposely waits and tells everybody he’s waiting and wrecks our car. I’m beside myself.”

Needless to say, NASCAR was not too pleased with Gordon’s actions at Phoenix, as they would fine him $100,000, dock him 25 points, and place him on probation for the remainder of the year. Some say Gordon got off light, considering NASCAR’s reaction to the Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano incident at Martinsville three years later, when Kenseth was parked for the remainder of the season.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.