Gordon’s relationship with Bowyer forever damaged

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - When NASCAR drivers gathered in Las Vegas last year to celebrate the end of the season, Jeff Gordon thought Clint Bowyer’s rage toward him might have eased in the two weeks following an on-track spin and an off-track melee between their crews.

Bowyer, the life of every party, had no intention of including Gordon in the fun.

“I thought he might have gotten over it at least enough to look at me, but he won’t even look at me, and when you are in this type of environment, that’s going to be odd,” Gordon said last November.

A full year removed from the Phoenix debacle, the relationship isn’t much improved.

“It’s affected our friendship, for sure,” Gordon said. “I like Clint, he’s a funny guy, a fun guy to hang out with. So we’re not doing much hanging out these days. But also, I’m not there to make friends. So it’s just racing as usual for me.”

Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer in the closing laps of last November’s race at Phoenix. On the surface, it appeared Gordon was retaliating for contact by Bowyer six laps earlier that cut one of Gordon’s tires.

Furious over the damage, he spun Bowyer into the wall while creating an accident that also collected Joey Logano and effectively ended Bowyer’s championship chances. An enraged Bowyer sprinted from his car into the garage, where crews for both drivers were fighting.

NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 and docked him 25 points, but allowed the four-time champion to race in the season finale at Homestead, where he revealed that his anger with Bowyer dated back months. Bowyer first ran afoul of Gordon and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team on a late restart at Martinsville that caused an accident and cost Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson a shot at picking up the 200th win for the organization.

Gordon isn’t sure the relationship with Bowyer, one of the most popular drivers in the garage, can ever be fully repaired.

“That was big, that was a major thing that happened between us and a heated exchange in the (NASCAR) hauler afterwards, too,” Gordon said. “I don’t think it will ever be quite like it was. We’ve spoken since and laughed about a few things, so I’m not saying we won’t ever have a few beers together.”

Bowyer to this day doesn’t like talking about the Phoenix fracas with Gordon. Involved in his own controversy this year for intentionally spinning at Richmond in an effort to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, he joked last week the one upside of the Richmond firestorm was that it blew over far quicker than the Phoenix incident.

“That (Richmond) was my own doing, but what happened at Phoenix lasted a whole other year,” Bowyer said. “To put the magnitude of the situations, somehow (Richmond) went away in a month, and (Phoenix) lasted a whole year.”

Beyond that, Bowyer didn’t bite on discussing Phoenix any further.

The two drivers have done a good job of avoiding on-track controversy between each other this season.

“He hasn’t run into me, that’s been a positive,” Gordon said. “He and I have always raced one another hard, but clean.”

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