Jeff Gordon deserves better

November, 16, 2012

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Fliers are floating around the Sprint Cup garage at Homestead-Miami Speedway that aren't very complimentary to Jeff Gordon.

Yes, someone's attempt at humor -- while taking potshots at the four-time champion for wrecking Clint Bowyer and his championship hopes last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway -- seems a little off-base.

It is undeserved.

Read for yourself:

"AARP has announced that Jeffrey Michael Gordon is the first ever recipient of its Motorsports Over-the-Hill award. Gordon has been recognized for appropriately representing AARP by taking actions consistent with its member base at the NASCAR event this past weekend in Phoenix. AARP had this to say of Gordon: 'This man was once young and tough enough to forcefully push other drivers on pit road and fearlessly slap at competitors on the race track, but he has recently curbed his response to confrontation into a quick retreat to a nearby hauler. Many drivers and crew members may still face adversity wearing a helmet like he once did, but it takes a person of AARP membership caliber to scurry to safety before their opponent arrives. Combine that with his inability to clearly identify when accidents are his fault and his frequent wandering from lane to lane, and we feel we have found the perfect candidate to illustrate our support for elderly drivers and their rights."

There's another entitled "Holly Farms Joke of the Week" recognizing Gordon for "single-handedly taking a driver out of the Chase."

Was Gordon wrong in wrecking Bowyer? Yes. He admits that. Should he have been parked instead of fined $100,000, docked 25 points and placed on probation? I still believe that would have been just.

But to ridicule a driver who has done more for the sport than most will dream of isn't just. It is a cheap attempt at getting a reaction at a time when we should be focused on the championship battle between Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.

It becomes even more insensitive when you realize what led Gordon to lose his temper went beyond Bowyer wrecking him at the end of the spring Martinsville race that Gordon appeared ready to win.

It went all the way back to Martinsville of 2004.

If we didn't realize before Friday how deep the remaining scars from the 2004 plane crash that took the lives of 10 people on the way to Martinsville are with Hendrick Motorsports, we do now.

Team owner Rick Hendrick was emotional almost to the point of tears as he discussed how the wife of his brother and the wife of a DuPont executive were at Martinsville for the first time since that tragic event when Bowyer wrecked Gordon.

He talked about how the low he felt losing the opportunity to get his organization's 200th win at the track where he "lost so much'' was more than the joy he had after winning some of his 10 Cup championships.

He explained that he and Gordon kept that emotion bundled up and it simply exploded at Phoenix after Bowyer got into Gordon hard enough to cut a tire.

Gordon admittedly still shouldn't have let his temper get the best of him. He'll have to explain that to his children one day.

But that is no reason for a prankster to make light of his career with the fliers.

Over the hill? Ninety percent of the garage can only hope they perform next season the way Gordon has this season at 41. His 10 top-5s are one more than Bowyer. His 17 top-10s are as many as Denny Hamlin.

Were it not for a stretch of bad luck during the regular season and the Chase, Gordon might be contending for a fifth title. He is far from over the hill, and what happened at Phoenix should remind everyone that he still has the fire to race among the best.

To make fun of the future Hall of Famer with fliers was cheap.

And very undeserved.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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