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Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer tangle at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Jeff Gordon got into Clint Bowyer on the track. Bowyer's crew got into it with Gordon in the pits. Bowyer made a WWE-like dash through the pits and garage to find Gordon.

The championship race heated up in the desert Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway and it had nothing to do with the weather.

Boys, have at it? They sure did.

``There's a lot of tension out there when you're running for points in the championship and things like that happen,'' said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. ``We'll continue to talk to the drivers and get them to work it out. That was surely a shame.''

The fireworks started with seven laps left, when Bowyer made contact with Gordon, sending him into the wall. Gordon's No. 24 car was black-flagged, but he didn't leave the track, instead waiting for Bowyer for his chance at redemption.

He got it, slowing down until Bowyer came back around, then sliding down the track when Bowyer tried to get around him on the apron between turns 1 and 2. Both cars, along with Joey Logano's No. 20, wrecked and were done for the day.

``Things just escalated over the year and I'd just had it,'' Gordon said. ``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 got him back.''

Turns out, the contact was just getting started.

After the wreck, Gordon pulled his car onto pit road and was headed toward his hauler when what seemed like Bowyer's entire team marched toward him. One of Bowyer's crew members grabbed Gordon from behind, prompting his team to run over and protect their driver.

A melee involving about two dozen ensued, with members of both teams pushing and shoving each other, some of them on the ground brawling while security tried to break it up.

Things eventually settled down and the crews went their separate ways.

It still wasn't over.

Bowyer was fuming after pulling his car up to its stall and made a dash that looked like something straight out of a wrestling show, dodging fans and crew members through the pits and garage area to Gordon's hauler. He made it up onto the platform of Gordon's hauler, but was stopped there by NASCAR officials. More pushing and shoving followed before order was restored.

``It makes us all look like a bunch of retards,'' Bowyer said. ``It's pretty embarrassing. For a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous.''

What irked Bowyer and his team most was that they had just climbed back into the championship race after points leader Jimmie Johnson wrecked.

Bowyer was 36 points behind Johnson heading into Sunday's race, needing quite a bit of help to have a shot at winning the title. He got a big dose when Johnson went into the wall with about 80 laps left and had to take his No. 48 car to the garage before returning 38 laps down.

Given new life, Bowyer was in good position, running in the top 10 as the race wound down to the final few laps.

With just six laps left, his hopes were crushed by Gordon's retaliatory strike, dropping Bowyer to 28th in the race and fourth in the standings, 52 points behind new leader Brad Keselowski heading into next week's season finale at Homestead.

``Cowardly, chicken, unbelievable that a champion, a guy that's raced for championships would get involved in a fight for a championship,'' said Michael Waltrip, co-owner of Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota. ``Clint didn't do anything wrong. They rubbed on the back straightaway. I guess if that constitutes slowing down and purposely waiting for a guy trying to win a championship, then how am I supposed to know what's to be expected around here.''

Both drivers and their crew chiefs met with NASCAR officials after the race as sheriff's deputies guarded the door.

Pemberton said they would look further into the incident this week before determining any kind of punishment.


JOHNSON'S CRASH: Johnson came into Sunday's race at PIR with a seven-point lead in what had become a two-man race with Keselowski. The five-time series champion had a decent car and was in good position to at least keep his lead if not build on it.

In a flash, he went from leading to trailing.

Running seventh on the 77th lap, Johnson started to feel a vibration in the right front of his car. Next thing he knew, the tire on that side had gone down, sending his car straight into the wall.

Johnson's crew worked hard in the garage to get the car back out, but he was 38 laps down when he returned.

Johnson finished 32nd, his worst finish in 19 starts at Phoenix, and heads into the season finale in second, 20 points behind Keselowski

``It's way, way out of our control after the problem we had today,'' said Johnson, whose previous worst finish in a Chase race at Phoenix was 14th. ``We still have to go to Homestead and race, and anything can happen down there. But not the position you want to be in leaving Phoenix.''


HARVICK AND CHILDRESS: Kevin Harvick ended a 44-race losing streak by beating Kyle Busch on a pair of late restarts at PIR on Sunday.

It isn't likely to change his standing at Richard Childress Racing.

Harvick's contract with the team ends after next season and team owner Childress is openly grooming his organization for his grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, who are currently competing in NASCAR's lower national levels.

``We look to everybody in `13 to go win a championship and whatever happens, happens,'' Childress said. ``It's a business decision; this is a business sport.''

ESPN reported on Friday that Harvick has signed a multi-year agreement to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing when his contract with Childress expires. Stewart wouldn't confirm the deal, nor would Harvick, who holds no grudges against his current team.

``What happens on a business side of things, Richard Childress and myself will always be friends, good or bad,'' Harvick said. ``(We may) agree to disagree, but we still have a lot of racing to do and we owe it to our sponsors and to our company to go out and do exactly what we did today.''


PARALYZED VETERANS CONTEST: Pennzoil donated three retro-fitted Dodge vehicles to three paralyzed veterans as part of the company's Long Love Cars campaign.

The vehicles were presented at a ceremony on Sunday - Veteran's Day - before NASCAR's race at Phoenix International Raceway. The three veterans were selected from hundreds and received a vehicle of their choosing, retro-fitted to their specific needs.

Pennzoil donated $100,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans of America to support the organization's Mission: ABLE program to retro-fit vehicles for injured veterans through the Long Love Cars Contest. Pennzoil also is donating a portion of each qualifying Pennzoil motor oil purchase at Dollar General stores to the Paralyzed Veterans, which generated an additional $50,000 donation.


LUG NUTS: Keselowski can clinch his first title by finishing 15th or better at Homestead, 16th and at least one lap led or 17th and most laps led. ... PIR will sponsor UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz during his upcoming title fight in 2013. Cruz, from Tucson, will wear PIR's logo will be visible on his trunks. ... Martin Truex set a track record in qualifying, only to have it broken by Kyle Busch. He had even worse luck on race day, derailed by an engine problem on lap 5. He ended up finishing last in the 43-car field.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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