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Gordon, a four-time champion, said he retaliated at Phoenix in a heat of the moment reaction to a grudge he’d been carrying for at least seven months. He’d been angry with Bowyer since Martinsville in April, when Bowyer played a role in costing Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory.

The race had been dominated that day by Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson, and a late caution had set up a restart with the teammates lined up side-by-side at the front. Bowyer restarted in the second row, on new tires, and got a shove from behind from Ryan Newman. He dove to the inside of Gordon and Johnson, made contact, and all three wrecked.

Although Bowyer and Gordon spoke at the track that day, the two drivers had other on-track incidents between them over the season, including another run-in at Martinsville last month, but they had a conversation after that, too.

But something made Gordon snap at Phoenix after late contact between the two. When Gordon retaliated, he mathematically eliminated Bowyer from championship contention.