Phoenix isn’t the first time Jeff Gordon’s found trouble. There was the infamous pit-road shove of Matt Kenseth in 2006; then, a few years later he and Jimmie Johnson butted heads at Texas. But this incident, in the fall of 2010 at that same Texas racetrack is the one most people remember. Gordon and Jeff Burton made contact as the caution came out and, regardless of who’s story you chose to believe, all hell broke loose. The end result was two totaled racecars and a Rainbow Warrior more than ready to throw down. Both had been through frustrating seasons, going winless, and each had already been “Chased” out of championship contention; but who would have expected the forty-somethings to start throwing punches? “I knew he was going to be mad,” said Burton… but that mad? Both drivers raced the next week, but NASCAR punished them in its own way: they had to ride to the infield care center in the same ambulance.
by Tom Bowles
9. Mr. Excitement punches Mr. Busch
Before the Jerry Punch incident, getting “inside Jimmie Johnson’s head,” the monkey-have-a-relationship-with-a-football comment, or even Maricopa County law enforcement finding out “who he was,” Kurt Busch had one main enemy: Jimmy Spencer. The two had gone back and forth for well over a year by the middle of 2003, ever since Busch roughed up Spencer to earn his first Cup Series victory at Bristol. But after they had wrecked each other multiple times at multiple tracks, what happened at Michigan was too much for the “Mr. Excitement.” Spencer, after hearing Busch had spent several portions of the day trying to cut down his tire, went right up to the No. 97 car after the race. On the in-car audio, you could hear Busch provoke and what followed was the punch heard ‘round NASCAR Nation. What was tough for Spencer was “Boys, Have At It” era this was not; he was parked a race for inappropriate behavior.
by Tom Bowles
8. 5-Hour Fisticuffs
Michael Waltrip may be a mild-mannered, sponsor-shrilling owner now but back in his driving days, he had his moments. Take this incident at Michigan, where he and Lake Speed battled for position in a last-lap scrape where Waltrip got the short end of the stick. It was Speed 11th, Waltrip 12th at the checkered flag, but Waltrip was determined to get the last word. Parking in front of the No. 9 car on pit road, he walked over, pulled down Speed’s window net and threw two punches to show how much he cared for their on-track contact. Both drivers would race the following week, although the incident did muddy Waltrip’s “peace and love” reputation among the fanbase.
by Tom Bowles
7. "Biffle's an Idiot."
It may have been the Nationwide (then Busch) Series, but that didn’t make the race win matter any less to Kevin Harvick. He and Greg Biffle were fighting for position when Harvick was spun. None too happy about it, Harvick patiently waited atop the pit wall for the race to be over, and as soon as Biffle exited the car the sophomore Cup driver was waiting to deliver the message that type of contact wouldn’t be tolerated. Biffle held his ground, as shaky as it was, but despite no major punishments for either side, he ended up the big winner over the long-term. A few weeks later, Harvick endured the heavy hand of NASCAR, being suspended for a race after some hard, inappropriate contact with other drivers in the Truck Series.
by Tom Bowles
6. Open Season on Open Wheelers
This clip goes to show that sometimes, the drivers aren’t the only ones who get to throw punches. After Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart tangled on this restart in Chicagoland, the anger from the incident landed smack dab in the middle of pit road. Kahne’s crew, unable to control themselves after being spun out of first place, went right down into the Home Depot pit stall to show their displeasure. Chaos ensued, in a brawl that needed multiple NASCAR officials to untangle even though the drivers themselves didn’t seem as angry. Yes, everyone raced the next week but poor Kahne would have to wait nearly a year, until Richmond in 2005, to score his first Cup victory.
by Tom Bowles
5. Grandstanding at the Glen
How can you make a list like this one without including NASCAR’s Colombian temper tantrum? Montoya has had plenty of feuds over the years, including absorbing a punch from Ryan Newman behind closed doors, but this wreck seems to be his most infamous NASCAR incident. Ironically, it was Martin Truex Jr., not Montoya, who caused this multi-car crash entering Turn 1 at the Glen. Kevin Harvick (common thread?) being none too happy and under the impression that JPM was at fault, went up to the No. 42 and blamed him for causing it all. The helmet-grabbing and patty-cakes that ensued entertained the crowd — in part because it proved neither actually wanted to throw down — but over the long-term meant far more for Montoya than the oft-aggressive Harvick. From that point on in stock car racing it cemented the then-rookie’s reputation that he wouldn’t back down on the racetrack, under any circumstances. That’s a driving style that’s earned him few friends in the garage area.
by Tom Bowles
4. The Further Misadventures of Happy Harvick
Happy Harvick was a little bit of a misnomer in the closing laps of this short-track shootout. Fighting for second with Ricky Rudd, his No. 29 car got spun out in one of those “racin’ deals” down the stretch. While Rudd went on to a top-5 finish, Harvick’s goals were realigned quickly: park next to that No. 21 car on pit road and let him have it. Jumping on, then over, Rudd’s Ford, Harvick didn’t stop until both crews were involved in a little melee. Who came out the big winner? Well, Harvick in the long run: he kept on contending for a championship while Rudd, despite coming close never won a race in three years driving for the Wood Brothers.
by Tom Bowles
3. The '89 Winston: DW vs. Rusty
For years, Darrell Waltrip was the bad guy, unable to do anything right in the eyes of the fans. That ended in an instant at age 38 near the end of the 1989 All-Star Race. Rusty Wallace, while battling for the lead off Turn 4, spun Waltrip’s No. 17 in what many considered to be a dirty move. While Rusty went on to take the checkers, the crews went at it on pit road while Waltrip was “robbed” of what could have been a $200,000-plus payday. More importantly, from that moment on there appeared to be a paradigm shift; suddenly, Waltrip was the popular elder statesman while Wallace became the fast-talking, aggressive heel.
by Tom Bowles
2. Dale Isn't Happy
If you think Jeff Gordon ruined Clint Bowyer’s title chances (as remote as they may have been) you’ll be beside yourself after seeing this video. Dale Earnhardt, fighting for the win with Ricky Rudd had Rusty Wallace far behind him at the back half of the top 10 and poised to open up a big lead in the championship over his rival. But Rudd was looking for a victory and dove underneath the No. 3 car hard entering the final lap. As the cars hung tight into Turn 1, the brakes started squealing, Bob Jenkins’ voice started cracking and suddenly, both cars were heading towards the wall. While Geoff Bodine went on to win, some say the points lost that day cost Earnhardt the title. No wonder why the crews went at it after the race. In the end, more verbal assaults were thrown than physicalities, but the damage would define the 1989 championship race. Earnhardt, who had some colorful language on-air, wanted Rudd suspended for the year but NASCAR, especially back in the ‘80s, would have none of it. Both raced (cleanly) the next time out.
by Tom Bowles
1. "The Fight"
NASCAR fans debate a lot of things, from fuel mileage finishes to mystery debris cautions, but this brawl is pretty much a unanimous No. 1 on any list. Let’s set the scene for you: Last lap. Daytona 500. Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison banging sheet metal down the backstretch for the win. Wreck. As Richard Petty streaks by to take the checkers, both drivers have to sit and deal with what could have been. As brother Bobby Allison comes to check on Donnie, emotions have a chance to boil over ... and punches follow. As Ken Squier so eloquently put it: “They’re angry. They know they have lost.” But you know who won? The sport of NASCAR. With record ratings due to a blizzard along the East Coast, its first flag-to-flag telecast was a roaring success that produced a generation of racing fans that would remain loyal for decades.
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