In the wake of the delayed NHL season, apparently NASCAR has stepped in to provide the kind of fighting that fans want. Jeff Gordon's late-race retaliation move that wrecked both Clint Bowyer's car and his championship chances erupted into a bench-clearing brawl when Bowyer's crew attacked Gordon as he exited his car.
Bowyer showed that he's just as fast in the pits as on the track, as he raced on foot to join the melee, only to be stopped at Gordon's hauler. Both drivers were summoned to the NASCAR trailer, and Gordon was subsequently slapped with a $100,000 fine, 25 driver points, and probation. Rick Hendrick drew a 25 owner point penalty, Gordon's crew chief Alan Gustafson received probation, and Brian Pattie, crew chief for Bowyer, was fined $25,000 and put on probation as well.
Some fans pointed out that Kyle Busch was suspended for a race due to similar activity last season, and NASCAR should suspend Gordon as well. However, Busch had a long string of "priors," which is the big difference. That, combined with Gordon's four championships, probably saved Jeff from sitting out the final race at Homestead next Sunday.
Lost in all the drama surrounding the Gordon/Bowyer incident was the race, which Kyle Busch dominated and Kevin Harvick won. Also lost was the dramatic turn in the championship points, when a blown tire took Jimmie Johnson from a seven-point lead to a 20-point deficit heading to Homestead. All Keselowski has to do is to finish 15th or better there, no matter if Johnson wins and leads the most laps. A Keselowski championship would be the first for Roger Penske's team in a NASCAR career that dates back 40 years to his 1972 debut with Mark Donohue driving an AMC Matador. It would also be an ironic win for Dodge, which is pulling the plug on its NASCAR racing efforts at the end of the season. Keselowski also drew a $25,000 fine (but importantly no points penalty) at Phoenix for violating a NASCAR rule by having his cell phone in the car. Interestingly, he wasn't penalized for an obscenity-laced tirade in the press room while commenting on the Gordon/Bowyer incident.
For me, the most egregious misstep of the race was NASCAR's failure to throw a caution flag after Jeff Burton put Danica Patrick into the wall on the green/white/checker restart. I have long been a critic of NASCAR's overuse of the caution for simple "spin and continue" incidents and questionable debris, but it was definitely called for in this case. Perhaps all the NASCAR officials were concentrating on the aftermath of the brawl and not paying attention to the race track, as Patrick left a three foot wide swath of oil in her path as she limped to the finish line. That caused another big wreck and a lot of torn-up race cars that could have been avoided had NASCAR shown a bit more consistency in officiating.
This weekend also marks the return of Formula One to the United States after a five year absence. The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is the tenth different F1 venue for a U.S. Grand Prix. Previous courses have run the gamut from Indianapolis to Long Beach to the Caesar's Palace parking lot in Las Vegas, and there have been as many as three U.S. races in a single year. It is the next to last race on this year's calendar, and all the drivers will be coming to grips with a brand-new circuit. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel could conceivably clinch the 2012 driving championship this weekend if he can gain 15 points on Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. The race will be televised Sunday live on SPEED at 10 a.m.