Over his lengthy NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Jeff Gordon has had a few run-ins with fellow competitors.
One of the most memorable came in last fall’s Chase race at Texas Motor Speedway where Gordon and Brad Keselowski walked away bloodied from an incident that started with late-race contact between the two drivers and culminated in all-out fisticuffs on pit road.
In that instance, Gordon was angry with Keselowski over a collision with the No. 2 car that caused a tire failure on the No. 24 Chevrolet as the two battled for the lead in the closing laps. His title hopes severely wounded with a poor finish, Gordon confronted Keselowski immediately after the race as members of their respective teams joined the fray to defend their drivers.
Gordon, who ultimately missed the Championship Round by a narrow margin, admitted on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that he wouldn’t hesitate to rough Keselowski up in this year’s Chase if the situation called for it. In other words, he still hasn’t completely gotten over last year.
Having had his title hopes crippled by contact with another driver in the not-too-distant past, Gordon finds himself empathizing a bit with Kevin Harvick, who in last weekend’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway suffered a tire failure and hit the wall as a result of contact with Jimmie Johnson –Gordon’s teammate.
Harvick, who finished 42nd and fell to last place among the 16 Chase drivers (he moved up a position when Clint Bowyer was penalized this week), expressed his displeasure by punching Johnson in the chest when Johnson approached him in the driver motorhome lot after the race.
While Gordon commends Johnson for reaching out, he can relate to Harvick’s frustration, too.
"I wasn’t in that situation so you don’t know how you’re going to react in those situations until you’re in them," Gordon said, when asked if he would have responded as Harvick did. "I think we all agree that maybe Jimmie should have waited a little longer before he approached Kevin on that one. But when I look at Jimmie, his sincerity of trying to patch things up with somebody I believe he respects on the track, and trying to at least give his side of it, is admirable. It just maybe was off on the timing.
"And then I go to the flip side, with Kevin. I can completely understand the frustration and the anger that would be built up in a situation like that. I can’t see where he did anything wrong (on the track). He tried to restart and didn’t get as good of a restart as he wanted, and somebody got inside of him and he’s holding his ground and they made contact. It was a racing incident, in my opinion."
Gordon then likened Harvick’s venom toward Johnson with how he felt toward Keselowski last November at Texas.
"It reminds me of the incident with Keselowski last year where guys are just being aggressive and making a move, and that’s all fine and good right up until your tire blows, and then you need to understand the level of anger that’s going to be built from that, especially if it takes you out of the Chase," Gordon said. "What’s why I reacted the way I reacted, and that’s the reason why Kevin probably reacted the way he did."
Gordon also questioned whether Harvick’s closed-fist hit of Johnson actually constituted a punch.
"Did he hit him? You call that a hit?" Gordon said. "I thought it was a ‘shove-hit.’ I wouldn’t call that a hit."
Although neither Harvick nor Johnson was penalized for their post-race altercation, there is a precedent for penalties when punches are thrown.
In April 2014, NASCAR fined Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose, and placed both drivers on short-term probation for their role in a post-race fight at Richmond.
In that instance, Mears shoved Ambrose, and Ambrose responded with a right hook to Mears’ eye that drew blood.
Gordon admitted on Friday to having "no idea" what NASCAR’s policy is on punches thrown — "I don’t want to know," he added — but Ryan Newman claimed NASCAR changes its policy on punching as it sees fit.
"My perspective of that is, how does the sentence go –‘any actions that seem detrimental to NASCAR. We (NASCAR) can do whatever we want to at any time,’" Newman said. "So closed fists or not, I think it all depends. If I went, just for instance, and was aggressive toward Danica, closed fists or not, would it matter? I don’t know.
"There’s so many different scenarios. The whole deal with Casey Mears and Ambrose to me was very unclear, because you always have the right as a human, no matter what, to defend yourself in any form or fashion, in my opinion. And that, I thought was something you shouldn’t get fined for — to defend yourself."