Feudin', fussin', fightin'

Gordon, Burton go at it with Chase pressure nearing peak

November 10, 2010|By George Diaz

When did NASCAR turn into a supersized version of "Family Feud?"

All eyes were on Texas, where the sport made one of its most dramatic pit stops of the season Sunday.

Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton got into a push-and-shove scrum after Burton wrecked Gordon, ending his run. Jimmie Johnson's pit crew got demoted and replaced with Gordon's. And through the contentious crossfire, Denny Hamlin emerged as the favorite to end Johnson's four-year run as Sprint Cup champ.

It's understandable why Texas turned into Dysfunction Junction.

Everybody is feeling the squeeze with only two races left in the season.

For Gordon, it will mark a frustrating end of season in which he was consistently at the front of the pack but never the lead dog. He has 11 top-5 finishes but no victories. He hasn't won a Cup title since 2001, even though he has finished no lower than seventh overall since 2006.

He even has struggled to find sponsors before hooking up with an anti-hunger campaign coordinated through the AARP Foundation.

One Web site labeled Gordon "Mr. Irrelevant" this week. That's a low blow.

Gordon is a quality driver and a class guy; he's just getting beat by better drivers, including his teammate, Johnson.

"If somebody does something stupid, I'm going to be mad about it, and I'm going to show him my frustration," Gordon said. "If I could have gotten to Kurt Busch after Martinsville it would have been the same thing. I didn't see him. And I had time to calm down. And I walked down there hoping I would see Jeff, and I did.

"I'm lucky I had a long enough walk to think about what I wanted to say and do, because if I hadn't had that long a walk, I would have done something I would have regretted."

Johnson may not be fighting mad, but he has to be worried about losing his grip on the title. He's 33 points behind Hamlin and now must play catch-up, a task made more daunting because of problems with his pit crew.

Crew chief Chad Knaus dumped the crew after all the problems it had in Texas and replaced it with Gordon's crew for the remainder of the season. Gordon's crew handled the last three pit stops at Texas, and the results were faster than any of the times posted with Johnson's crew.

"You have to try to win the championship," Johnson said. "And if somebody's feelings got hurt, that's too bad. We're here to win a championship, and we have to do everything we can."

That may not be enough.

Gordon's and Johnson's problems aren't good for them, but it is good business for NASCAR.

From all accounts, we have a scrum on our hands.

gdiaz2@tribune.com

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