The pressure of the playoffs was on full display at Dover when immediately after the race Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman got into it over a pretty mundane comment.
Newman called after Jeff Gordon about a comment he made. Apparently Gordon told him, “Thanks for the help,” and Newman didn’t like his tone. Gordon maintains his innocence but clearly Newman thinks there was more to it.
Clearly, Newman was on edge after being eliminated from the playoffs, but Jeff Gordon, part owner of Chase Elliot’s number 24 car, was annoyed at his driver narrowly missing out on his first win. Newman was being lapped by the two leaders and his position helped Kyle Busch make his race winning move.
Related: Chase Elliott saw his first career win slip through his fingers at the hand of a former champion
With both men having reason to be upset after the race, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, Steve Letarte, explains why a mild annoyance almost turned into a major confrontation:
“A simple exchange became this big of a topic because of the pressure of the playoffs,” he said via NBCSports. “In Race 20, I think Ryan Newman lets it pass. But not at the end of the round that he was knocked out of. … The pressure goes up and so does the disappointment if you’re the car eliminated.”
Parker Kligerman also weighed in, taking Newman’s side:
“I definitely think Ryan Newman is in the right,” Kligerman said. “Jeff Gordon said what he had to say and has a right to do that. There’s emotions after these races … and especially for drivers when you’ve gotten knocked out of the playoffs and didn’t have the first three races you wanted, as Ryan Newman had, anything said your way I think you’re going to go after it all day.”
It makes sense why Gordon was upset, but the last thing any driver wants questioned is his competitiveness. Newman wanted to make sure Gordon knew that he was out there driving for his playoff life and wasn’t concerned with ‘helping’ others on the track during an elimination race.