Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Commentary: It's Time For NASCAR To Rein-In Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon’s car owner needs to have a long talk with his driver.

Saturday at Watkins Glen International, the Peck’s Bad Boy of NASCAR lost his legendary temper for the second time in as many weeks, retaliating for some perceived slight by pushing Joey Logano’s GameStop Toyota into a tire barrier at high speed, after the caution flag had flown for an unrelated incident. The crash caused Logano’s car to erupt in flames, and triggered a series of angry comments from the normally low-key driver after the incident.

“I guess he was upset because this is one of the two tracks he thinks he has a chance on,” said Logano. "It's a pretty raw deal. You can't fix stupid. It's forever. But you put that in your memory bank."

Gordon had little to say immediately following the race. The next morning, however, he sought-out NASCAR officials to explain his side of the story, and even issued a press release on the topic.

“(The) whole turn of events started with Joey running into the back of my #55 in Turn 10,” said Gordon. “He then knocked me sideways in Turn 11. To show him my displeasure, I ran him down toward the inside wall on the front straight. I tried to do a crossover move in Turn One to get back by him. However, I misjudged a little, resulting in both of us getting flat tires.

“During the final incident that ended Joey's day, we were racing for the Lucky Dog position. After the bus stop chicane, Joey wrecked the No. 34 of Tony Raines. This contact allowed me to get underneath him in Turn 9. He saw that I was going to pass him for the Lucky Dog position, so he tried to block me. This maneuver resulted in his right rear tire connecting with my left front. I felt he would be okay because he was in the section where the outer loop was. Rather than going down the inner loop, he decided to cut across the grass, hitting the tire barrier.”

Saturday’s incident was not the first involving Gordon this season. Just seven days earlier at Pocono Raceway, Gordon and driver David Stremme were penalized five laps apiece for multiple bumping incidents, culminating when Stremme spun Gordon on the Long Pond straightaway.

Prior to the crash, Gordon announced on his in-car radio that he would intentionally wreck Stremme, and didn’t care what NASCAR did about it.

Gordon’s most notable outbreak of bad behavior came in 2007, when he wrecked leader Marcos Ambrose late in a Nationwide Series race in Montreal, refused to forfeit his position when ordered to by NASCAR, ignored multiple black flags, then cut a series of victory donuts following the race. His actions earned him a suspension from the next day’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono.

There is a lot to like about Robby Gordon. He is one of NASCAR’s last true owner-drivers, going it alone in a sport dominated by multi-car teams and multi-million dollar alliances. His talents at the wheel of a racecar are beyond dispute, and he appears on virtually everyone’s list of potential winners when the Sprint Cup Series stops at either Infineon Raceway or Watkins Glen.

Unfortunately, the same maverick mentality that makes Gordon so unique in the garage sometimes makes him a hazard on the racetrack.

“This is a highly competitive sport, and we are all very passionate when we are on the track,” said Gordon in his published statement. “Tempers have a tendency to flare.”

Unfortunately, Robby’s fuse has become dangerously short, and it’s time for NASCAR to dampen his powder. Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said no decision had been made about penalizing Gordon for his actions Saturday, adding that Robby's behavior in Monday's rain-delayed Cup race would play a role in his decision on whether (and how hard) to drop the punitive hammer.

Gordon raced like a choirboy Monday, minding his manners en route to an 18th place finish.

Historically, NASCAR has done a good job of policing situation like these privately, with unscheduled “Come To Jesus” meetings behind the offending driver’s transporter. If such a meeting hasn’t already taken place, it should.

One of NASCAR’s most talented drivers is rapidly becoming one of its most dangerous, and that trend cannot be allowed to continue.

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