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Murto: NASCAR buzzing after flap in Phoenix

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By Craig Murto - sports@nvdaily.com

Following the craziness of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, the championship weekend at Homestead, Fla., should be sold out.

NASCAR may not publicly approve of Jeff Gordon's on-track retaliation against Clint Bowyer, and they may point an angry finger at the brawl in the garage area among crew members, but privately they're smiling. NASCAR was all the talk at water coolers all over the world on Monday morning.

Should Gordon have retaliated? Probably not. Would the public be as forgiving if it were Brad Keselowski who got caught up in it and not Joey Logano and Aric Almirola? NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 and docked him 25 points.

Should Bowyer's crew have gone after Gordon? No. What happens on the track should stay on the track. Understand that they felt they were protecting their driver, and it demonstrates the passion people involved have for this sport. But there's no room for this in racing, otherwise we'll have brawls in the garage area every week.

Many have suggested that Jeff Gordon should be suspended from the last race of the season. They cite last season, when Kyle Busch got suspended after intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday in a truck race.

But there's a difference. Kyle Busch was not a Camping World Truck Series regular, and yet he intentionally wrecked somebody going after the championship in that series. And Kyle Busch already had a history of run-ins with drivers and a bad attitude to boot. Jeff Gordon, on the other hand, doesn't have a long history of intentionally wrecking drivers.

Gordon demonstrated poor judgment. Logano and Almirola were having good days, taken away because Gordon couldn't wait until the cool-down lap to get revenge. But Gordon wasn't the only one demonstrating a lack of judgment at Phoenix.

Where was the caution flag when Gordon hit the wall? NASCAR throws the caution for phantom debris half the time when races get strung out, but when parts are falling off Gordon's car they fail to throw the caution? If they had, Gordon would have been forced to pit and the retaliation would not have occurred.

During the red flag, Keselowski tweeted on his cell phone. NASCAR had no problem with it at Daytona, but fined him $25,000 for Phoenix. Was it because "electronic devices" such as cell phones are illegal in the car as they can be used to activate traction control? Or was it because of the F-bombs Keselowski dropped in the media center?

And why didn't NASCAR throw the caution for Danica Patrick's accident? Instead, a number of cars wrecked on the last lap when they got in oil Patrick's wrecked machine spewed onto the racing surface.

In all fairness, if NASCAR had thrown the yellow as soon as Patrick crashed, there would have been another green-white-checkered finish. Eventual winner Kevin Harvick probably would have run out of gas, and fans would be crying that there was some conspiracy to keep Harvick out of victory lane. And it did appear that Patrick got her car out of the way and onto the apron. Obviously they didn't see the oil on the track.

NASCAR needs to err on the side of safety. Parts were falling off Gordon's car; the caution should have been thrown. Patrick's car was sideways in the middle of the track; the caution should have been thrown.

I think Jeff Burton dumped her, and since that's not his style, she must have really rubbed him the wrong way. I also think Patrick was completely clueless as to why. She proved herself to be clueless a few weeks ago when she retaliated against Landon Cassill. It's scary thinking she'll be a Cup regular next season. Hopefully she learns from her mistakes before then.

But Patrick sells tickets, and that's what it's all about, just as Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer helped sell some Homestead tickets.

Jimmie Johnson melted a bead on his right-front tire, hit the wall, and went nearly 40 laps down at Phoenix. Keselowski finished sixth. Jimmie Johnson can win at Homestead and all Keselowski has to do is finish 15th or better to win the championship. Of course, Keselowski could be the one who faces misfortune at Homestead. Whatever happens, there's sure to be a huge crowd to see it.

-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident



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