As I watched Sunday’s Sprint Cup race from Texas Motor Speedway, which included everything from the swapping out of an entire pit crew to a frustrated driver flipping an official the one-finger salute, the most shocking and somewhat humorous moment occurred when normally mild-mannered Jeff Gordon took a few swings at a somewhat unsuspecting Jeff Burton after an accident under caution. As we wait and see what NASCAR intends to do with the drivers in the year of “have at it, boys,” a look at a few other famous sports fights may give us an idea what to expect.
Cale Yarborough v. the Allisons –
The most famous fight in NASCAR history occurred at the end of ESPN’s second-most memorable Daytona 500 in history – its first ever live, nationally televised race. Donnie Allison was leading on the final lap with Yarborough beside him. Yarborough lost control of his car and took Allison with him into the Turn Three wall. When the smoke cleared and the cars settled on the infield grass, the two drivers started arguing, soon to be joined by Donnie’s brother Bobby, who was a lap down anyway. The fight went on to be the talk of the sports world, and put NASCAR on the map as a nationwide sport.
New York Yankees v. Baltimore Orioles –
Baseball fights are a sight to behold, and this was one for the ages. After Bernie Williams hit a three-run homer, Orioles pitcher Armando Benitez let his emotions get the best of him and hit Yankee Tino Martinez right between the shoulder blades. The benches cleared, and a major brawl ensued, with reliever Graeme Lloyd leaving the bullpen to join in. Three Yankees and two Orioles were suspended for the brawl, with Benitez getting an eight-game suspension.
Buffalo Sabres v. Ottawa Senators –
This one is still fresh in my mind as a Sabres fan. Senator Chris Neil blindsided then-Sabre Chris Drury, leaving the captain woozy at best. Neil never received a penalty, which incensed Sabres coach Lindy Ruff; on the next shift, he sent out the enforcers. The brawl erupted, and even good-guy goalie Martin Biron faced off against former boxer Ray Emery; three players were ejected and 100 penalty minutes were handed out. The aftermath: Ruff was fined $10,000 for telling his guys “Go out and run ’em.” Fans offered to pay the fine.
Based on these scenarios, and NASCAR’s self-policing policy, chances are there will be fines involved for Gordon at the least (he did throw the punches), but hopefully there will also be a renewed interest in NASCAR, which has been losing popularity in recent years. As far as Jeff and Jeff’s relationship on and off the track goes, they’ll be fine – it’s another week, after all.
Sources: David Newton, “Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton Crash and Fight,” sports.espn.go.com
Terry Blount, “No. 2 most memorable Daytona 500: The Fist Fight,” sports.espn.go.com
Buster Olney, “Five Players Barred After a Nasty Brawl in a Yankees Game,” nytimes.com
“Drury injury sparks brawl in Sabres’ SO win vs. Sens,” sports.espn.go.com
“NHL fines Sabres coach $10,000,” usatoday.com