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November 14, 2012

NASCAR’S new dilemma

NORMAN — NASCAR had a real dilemma on its hands with this whole Jeff Gordon mess hanging over the season finale.

History suggested Gordon could have been suspended from Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as punishment for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix, sparking a brawl in the garage. That’s the punishment Kyle Busch got a year ago for retaliating against Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Truck Series event at Texas.

But was NASCAR seriously going to sit the four-time champion? From the season finale?

Nope. He instead got a $100,000 fine from NASCAR, which also docked him 25 points in the championship standings.

Maybe NASCAR should have also thanked him for triggering the fight and frenzied final sequence of events that had half the country talking about the series on Monday.

Even without that, the penalty was the right call by NASCAR, which walks a fine line between sport and entertainment — and has only itself to blame.

Some viewed Sunday as a black eye for NASCAR, but others were celebrating it as one of the best races of the season. It wasn’t lost on Kevin Harvick, who snapped a 44-race losing streak with the victory.

“The sport was made on fights. We should have more fights,” he said. “Fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”

NASCAR heard the complaints from fans that drivers had become too corporate, the sport had strayed too far from its rough and tumble roots and scores were no longer settled at the track. The 2009 finale at Homestead was one of those throwback races, and the crowd roared as drivers used their cars to deliver old-school justice.

President Mike Helton said at the time: “We didn’t certainly intend to make it too sterile, but the drivers were afraid to be themselves, and that’s not good.”

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