If image is everything, NASCAR has a problem.
Or maybe not.
I'm as conflicted as anyone else trying to connect the dots to logic in the post-race aftermath of those shenanigans at Phoenix.
Why is Jeff Gordon still in the starting grid for the series finale at Homestead this weekend after the havoc he caused in Phoenix? Is it because he is a classy four-time champion with no record of retaliatory paybacks? Or is it because NASCAR wanted to set up the drama of Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer: Retribution Day, with or without the HANS device?
Why on earth did Brad Keselowski get docked 25 grand for tweeting a picture form Phoenix when he has sent out tweets from races three other times without repercussions? Was it because it was finally sticking to Rule 20-6.7A, which bans drivers from keeping electronics of any sort in the car? Or was it because of his profane post-race rant addressing the nonsense between Gordon and Bowyer?
You can say this controversy is good for business because there's not much drama left in the Chase unless Keselowski makes a mistake or gets popped. The championship is his if he finishes 15th or higher, even if Johnson leads the race and leads the most laps.
The Gordon-Bowyer mayhem — started by Bowyer bumping into Gordon's car and followed by Gordon's deliberate retaliation — is certainly part of the old-school business model. Dale Earnhardt rose to iconic status by wrecking anybody who got in his way.
NASCAR has evolved since then, and some would say not in a good way. Attendance is down at many tracks, as fans have been turned off by the homogenous spin of things. The Gordon-Bowyer scuffle certainly perked up considerable interest, even from casual fans, and that is good.
Is this why NASCAR looked the other way? You have to ask the question because there are a bunch of people out there wondering how the heck Gordon got a free pass this Sunday.
"The image and integrity of the sport has to be protected and NASCAR has the responsibility to do that," FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip said.
I know Waltrip's credibility on this issue may appear shaky because his brother Michael is Bowyer's team owner. But the point is valid, and echoed elsewhere.
"Some lines were crossed that cannot be tolerated," Terry Blount wrote on ESPN.com. "NASCAR can't allow a mob mentality where an angry pit crew attacks another team's driver, as Bowyer's crew did on Gordon."
And so mob mentality and pitchforks it is, race fans.
NASCAR's business model now skews toward WWE as all the heroes and villains roll into South Florida for the final showdown.
As one fan wrote me in an email: "Maybe NASCAR is being light on the punishment for a reason. Bad publicity will get more people tuning in next week to see what happens. Maybe it's just all staged drama like pro wrestling."
I've got Gordon over Bowyer by a body-slam, and an upset victory for Johnson after NASCAR disqualifies Keselowski for having a rotary phone in his car.
Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress are sharing an awkward moment for a while. Think of them as an estranged couple: The divorce papers have been filed, but nobody has packed up and left just yet. The thing is, the awkward moment will last an entire year.
That's how long it will take Harvick to move from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing. Nothing is quite official yet, but the comments from the two parties involved eliminates any guesswork.