AVONDALE, Ariz. -- When Jeff Gordon walked out of the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage Sunday evening, it should have been for the last time this season.
NASCAR needs to suspend the four-time champion for this weekend's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after he intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer late in Sunday's race at Phoenix.
But Gordon shouldn't be the only one absent at Homestead this weekend. NASCAR should also suspend crew members responsible for the garage brawl between Gordon's and Bowyer's teams afterward.
Gordon must be forced to sit because he twice tried to wreck Bowyer. While NASCAR might have been more lenient had Gordon dumped Bowyer on his first attempt, Gordon failed. Instead, he slowed and let Bowyer catch him before finishing the job.
That's unacceptable, even in this era of "Boys, have at it.''
Last year when officials parked Kyle Busch after he wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in a truck race at Texas, NASCAR President Mike Helton noted that a combination of factors led to that decision. Helton said that because Hornaday was a title contender, along with Busch racing after Hornaday under yellow to wreck him, officials suspended him. Helton also noted that Busch's previous indiscretions were "not an overriding influence'' and that NASCAR escalated the penalties because previous punishments had not quelled such behavior.
Sunday's incident by Gordon meets the criteria Helton mentioned a year ago, along with other standards, that should be considered.
• Gordon positioned himself to attack by slowing for Bowyer.
• There were a few laps between Gordon's attempts at Bowyer, providing a little time for Gordon to calm down or his team to calm him, yet he went after Bowyer a second time.
• While both are Chase drivers, Bowyer still had a chance for the title. He was within 30 points before he was wrecked. Admittedly, Bowyer's chances of winning the title were minute, but he still had a chance. Gordon took that away.
• Gordon's action impacted others, wrecking Joey Logano and then Aric Almirola, who slid in the oil caused by the crash.
• Gordon's previous clean record can't override his premeditated action.
"It's just things have gotten escalated over the year, and I've just had it," Gordon said. "Clint's run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it and was fed up with it and got him back."
Gordon has a right to be angry with Bowyer for various incidents this year, including the Martinsville spring race when Bowyer's banzai attempt for the lead spun Gordon and cost him a chance to win.
NASCAR didn't penalize Bowyer that day, or any of the other days about which Gordon is upset, so officials didn't see anything wrong with what he did. Thus, the past isn't a defense for Gordon's actions Sunday.
Instead, he will be judged on this instance. For that, he must be penalized.
Gordon seemed prepared for what NASCAR might do after meeting with series officials.
"They've got to do what they've got to do, and I've got to do what I've got to do,'' he said.
Despite all of the focus on Gordon, Bowyer also isn't innocent. He sprinted from his parked car on pit road to Gordon's hauler in the garage before a NASCAR official stopped him a few feet from the hauler's rear door. Bowyer's penalty, though, is small compared to what Gordon did on the track.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said series officials could announce penalties by Monday or Tuesday.
NASCAR gives drivers leeway in "settling scores,'' but as Helton has said before, if a driver goes too far, they'll intercede. The problem is if NASCAR doesn't step in here, how much worse will things become on the track?
Brad Keselowski, who reclaimed the points lead after Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and crashed, decried the debacle.
"The retaliation is out of control in this sport,'' said Keselowski, who leads Johnson by 20 points with one race left. "We've got a bunch of drivers that feel like they have to retaliate or they're being challenged as a man, and that's ridiculous. It's not what this sport needs.
"[The sport] needs hard racing; it needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all out there on the line -- not a bunch of people that have anger issues.''
Keselowski is sensitive about this subject because he was berated by veterans for his driving style after high-profile incidents a few years ago and even questioned by some with how he raced Johnson for the win at Texas last week.
"It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see bulls--- like that. That's [expletive] bulls---. That's all you can call that. These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called an a--hole for racing hard and called with a death wish, and I see s--- like that, and it just pisses me off. It's just [expletive] ridiculous. And they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing.''
Bowyer, though, was furious about seeing his slim title hopes vanquished.
"That was my opportunity to try to get myself back in the championship hunt,'' he said. "When you're disrupting a championship run like that, it's too bad. They ask us not to do that in the drivers' meeting and there's usually a lot of respect there.''
Respect didn't make it to the track Sunday. Neither should Gordon this Sunday.