Jeff Gordon putting post-race fight behind him

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Jeff Gordon is focusing on running well tomorrow at Phoenix International Raceway, but everyone else seems to be focusing on the brawl between his and Clint Bowyer’s crews last fall in NASCAR’s last visit to the desert.

The two drivers’ on-track incidents in the final laps touched off a post-race fight in the garage, and Bowyer also made an attempt to confront Gordon at his transporter (he was stopped by security when he got there). Kevin Harvick’s victory in the race was pretty much buried by the fracas, which easily became of NASCAR’s more memorable moments of 2012.

Both racers, along with 41 others, will be more worried about how the new Generation-6 cars work on PIR’s one-mile oval in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. But Gordon has acknowledged the hype that has surrounded himself and Bowyer this weekend.

“It’s hard to get away from [the fight],” the four-time Sprint Cup champion said to the media at PIR. “They’re still using it to advertise for the race and it was a big story.”

Indeed, it was. Gordon was fined a whopping $100,000 for his role in the altercations and also lost 25 driver points as well.

But he knows he can’t think about it too much, as he’ll have plenty of other things to deal with on Sunday. As for what he’ll do if he should come across Bowyer on the track, Gordon has maintained that he won’t race him differently.

“We’ll race hard,” he said. “We’ll race hard for position and hopefully we don’t have any incidents. I can’t run every lap worrying about every guy I’ve ever had an incident with.”

Gordon will start fifth in his bid to win at PIR for a third time. Bowyer’s taking the green flag from 13th position.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.