Fort Worth, Texas It was quite a day for the racing extras at Texas Motor Speedway.
Willie Nelson sang oldies in the sun.
Dickie V made a few Sprint Cup driver introductions, pausing just long enough at one point to single out Kurt Busch as a “PTP” (Prime Time Player), baby.
Then, almost 21⁄2 hours into Sunday’s AAA 500, on Lap 191, things quickly deteriorated into the “Jerry Springer” show.
Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton — two of the most congenial drivers on the circuit — became embroiled in an animated shoving match, on the track, sans helmets, outside their wrecked cars.
It wasn’t quite Yarborough vs. Allison.
Those infamous 1979 Daytona 500 fisticuffs have long been credited for putting NASCAR on the map because of its live TV coverage that day.
In this one, ESPN cameras rolled ... and Gordon certainly was angry enough for both Jeffs.
“He just flat-out wrecked me,” said Gordon, who took a long, purposeful, 45-second walk from his No. 24 DuPont Chevy to where Burton had just climbed outside his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
Gordon immediately delivered a two-hand chuck to the base of Burton’s neck.
The Chase turned into The Fight.
The weirdest moment came when Gordon and Burton were put into the same emergency response vehicle for a mandatory medical observation.
The three-minute drive from the wreck scene to the infield care center left many onlookers wondering: What’ll we find inside when the door reopens?
“I didn’t want to ride in the ambulance with him,” Gordon grumbled. “It wasn’t fun. He talked. He talked a lot. I didn’t say a word.”
Burton’s only defense was that he had no defense.
He threw up his hands and immediately apologized.
“I knew (Gordon) was going to be mad — and I don’t blame him,” Burton said. “He didn’t do anything he shouldn’t have done. He was upset, and he should’ve been upset. I wrecked him under caution.”
The race had just gone under caution for the seventh time in the race.
Once the brouhaha broke out, Burton quickly tied up Gordon, who tried to work in a short right-hand cross. But that was smothered by a pair of burly NASCAR security cops dressed in white fire suits and motorcycle helmets.
One of them walked around with his arms held wide to keep Gordon off Burton (another common “Jerry Springer” maneuver).
“I had a long enough walk to think about it,” Gordon said later. “If I hadn’t had that long walk, I may have done something I would’ve regretted.”
Gordon, one of NASCAR’s most recognizable stars and a four-time Cup champion with 82 career victories, dropped even further out of contention in the Chase for the Cup standings, from fourth to sixth.
He’s one of only four Chase drivers not to have won a Chase race in 2010
(Burton is another). Only two more chances remain.
I’m quite sure frustrated No. 24 DuPont Chevy fans out there were wishing that Gordon would’ve just popped Burton.
Burton’s Chevy got its right front end into the right rear of Gordon’s car, sending both into the wall.
Gordon’s car was a crumpled mess. (Conversely, Burton later returned for the last 15 percent of the race.)
“I didn’t mean to wreck him, but I wrecked him,” Burton said. “He was mad ... and he should’ve been mad.”