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Jeff Gordon: will Sunday be a Payback 400? He's not sure what to expect, after his Phoenix controversy. And can Keselowski escape?

Jeff Gordon: will Sunday be a Payback 400? He's not sure what to expect, after his Phoenix controversy. And can Keselowski escape?

Clint Bowyer's Phoenix Sunday didn't finish out very well (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Jeff Gordon gave a full account Friday of his side of that wild incident with Clint Bowyer in the final miles of Sunday's Phoenix 500, and he was rather unapologetic about taking Bowyer out of championship contention, and apparently less than apologetic about also putting Joey Logano, an innocent victim, in the wall in that same incident.

   "I reached out for an apology," Logano said of his calling Gordon this week. "And I didn't get one. In facdt I got hung up on."

   That may set up a potentially ugly situation for those three, and maybe others,  in the season finale.

   Fortunately for Sprint Cup tour points leader Brad Keselowski, he'll be up front, starting on the second row, in a somewhat surprising -- again -- performance. Keselowski thus once more upstaged five-time champion Jimmie Johnson (starting 10th), who needs to win the race and lead a lot of laps to have any hope of tripping up Keselowski for the NASCAR title.

    "I've always said if you're contending for the championship, you've got to be as smart about the things you do on the track as the guys you're racing who might be outside the championship," Gordon said steely about it all.
   "There was absolutely no reason (for Bowyer) to run into me. 
    "You've got to understand each guy you're racing. And you've got to understand if they're a guy who needs a ride next year (and might be racing more aggressively)... you've got to understand if they're a guy trying to finish 10th or 12th in the points, or whether they're a guy racing for the championship. 
    "And it goes both ways; it's not just a oneway 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.
    "It just wasn't very smart of Clint to run into me. Almost cut my left-rear tire down. And he knew we had past history (Martinsville).
    "And so afterwards, did it sit well with me, knowing that that took his (championship) hopes out? 
     "He's also a guy I would consider a friend. But at that moment it's hard to bring all that into your mind when you're upset about a situation. 
     "What I regret most is that 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.
    "Everybody thinks I intentionally went down there and wrecked him, and that's not the case. 
     "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. When he did, it caused us to hook... and caused what ended up being a terrible accident."


   Jeff Gordon (R) and Clint Bowyer: a radioactive combination at the moment (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    That NASCAR officials did not suspend him for this race, as they had done with Kyle Busch for a similar situation a year ago, has been controversial.
   Gordon insisted he was never really worried about being suspended and having to miss this weekend's Homestead 400, on the 20th anniversary of his first NASCAR tour start.
    "I tried not to think about that," he said.
    "I knew there would be fines and penalties, but I felt like I'd be in the seat this weekend."


  Joey Logano: wins the pole for Sunday's Homestead 400 (3 p.m. ET start), with Sprint Cup points leader Brad Keselowski right behind him. It will be Logano's last race for Joe Gibbs, Toyota and Home Depot. Next season he'll be Keselowski's teammate with Ford's Roger Penske. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "The thing I regret -- and the thing I messed up on -- is that I allowed my anger and my emotions to put me in a position to make a bad choice," Gordon said. 
    "I felt Clint needed to be dealt with, but that wasn't the right way to go about it. Certainly not the right time. 
    "And what I hate most about it is that other guys were involved with it and it affected their day.
    "I certainly look back on it and wish I had done things different."


   Gordon's 'history' with Bowyer: Martinsville isn't a three-wide track.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Rick Hendrick, Gordon's team owner, tried to frame the whole situation this way:  "Here sits a guy that's done more for the sport than anybody I know. 
   "He's opened the doors for all the young guys, the openwheel guys. 
    "He's done things like Saturday Night Live.
    "He's done the cover of Fortune. 
     "Never seen him have a problem, not a major problem in 20 years.
     "And he's mentored a lot of young guys along the way. 
      "His emotions got control Sunday."

  If Jeff Gordon sees this in his review mirror Sunday.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Gordon, though defiant, was clearly subdued about the whole situation.
      "I've been through a lot of moments throughout my career, some that I was more proud of than others," he conceded.  "This is definitely not one of my proudest moments.
     "But I also understand what led up to it, and I stand by that."
     He knows his reputation took a hit in the deal. Joey Logano was sharply critical; Logano was one of the innocents taken out in the crash.
       "You're going to tarnish your respect among guys," Gordon said.
   But then he fired right back: "I don't think they're going to be messing with me for a little while. That message was sent pretty clear.
   "The last couple years I feel one thing maybe I haven't done enough of is show the fire inside me, that I have to want to win, and want to win championships. 
    "While I would have liked to have gone about it differently on Sunday, it did show that fire and passion inside of me in a big way."

   Ouch! Jeff Gordon (24) into Clint Bowyer at Phoenix. Payback for Martinsville? Now payback for Phoenix coming? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   If he could do it all over again, Gordon said he would have liked for NASCAR to have thrown the caution for Bowyer's initial contact. NASCAR for some reason did not throw that caution.
   With a caution, to clear up the debris from where he slapped the wall, Gordon would have pitted for tires, brushed off the incident, "and dealt with it with Clint at another time."

     Gordon says he feels he's allowed some rivals to take advantage of him this season. "Enough was enough. 
    "I usually make a mental note and hold those things, and be patient... and remind them of those things over a long period of time, instead of taking them out right there at the moment.

   So where does the situation with Bowyer stand at the moment?
    "I have not spoken to Clint, other than Sunday in the NASCAR hauler. 
    And the situation with Logano?
   "I'm not one that calls right away.  I like things to settle down," Gordon said. "I'd really rather do face to face.
    "But Joey called me, so I called him back... and I can't say it went exactly very well. 
    "I've reached out to him again to try to get together with him here at the track."
    But no go, so far.

   What does Gordon expect from Logano and Bowyer Sunday?
   "There's the $1 million question," Gordon says.
    "I guess I'm a little old-school when it comes to this.  Talking about 20 years.
     "I've been wrecked... I've been caught up in other people's wrecks.  I've been on both sides of it.
    "And I didn't expect a phone call. I didn't expect somebody to come and spend an hour with me explaining things.
     "Usually the ones that did that were the ones that did it just because they didn't want you to wreck them back.
      "Joey getting caught up in it, I'm definitely sorry about that, and I take responsibility for that.  I want to try to make it up to him best I can."

    However Gordon well remembers what happened after his inadvertent run-in at Sonoma last year with Martin Truex Jr. Gordon apologized but Truex was having none of it, and raced Gordon extremely hard for months.
    So what does Gordon really expect Sunday?
   "I can't control what's going to happen out there, what other guys are going to do against me this weekend," he says. 
     "I'm pretty sure if they're having a good day, they're not going to mess with me. 
      "If they're having a really bad day and feel like they have nothing to lose, then maybe they will.  We'll see. 
    "I would tune in the following Sunday and see what happens."
     Is all this, however, just good marketing for this sport?
    "They wouldn't be advertising for the race using all those clips if it weren't," Gordon said.



   Clint Bowyer at Phoenix, on his way to confront Jeff Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



After watching the wreck live,and looking at all the closeups later- I would like to personally go and knee Jeffie in the groin. Risking several people's lives is not sport,its arrogance. By the way, I"m a 76 yr. old female, but still mad enough to kick butt, a week later.

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