Jeff Gordon admits he regrets deliberately taking Clint Bowyer out of the Phoenix NASCAR Sprint Cup race last weekend, but also believes his actions proved he still has "a fire inside."
Four-time champion Gordon put Bowyer into the wall in a late collision that also collected Joey Logano, and triggered a pitlane brawl between the pair's Hendrick and Michael Waltrip crews. NASCAR subsequently punished Gordon, who had hit Bowyer in retaliation for earlier contact.
"The thing that I regret and the thing that I messed up on is that I allowed my anger and my emotions to put me in a position to make a bad choice," said Gordon ahead of this weekend's Homestead season finale. "I feel like Clint needed to be dealt with, but that wasn't the way to go about it and that wasn't the right time.
"What I hate most about it is that other guys were involved in it. So I will certainly look back on it and wish that I had done things differently."
But while contrite, Gordon also reckons he laid down a marker to rivals.
"I don't think they're going to be messing with me for a little while," he said. "I think that message is going to be sitting pretty clear."
The 41-year-old, whose last title came back in 2001, feels the Phoenix incident underlined that he still has a passion for winning.
"For the last couple of years I feel that maybe one thing I haven't done enough of is show the fire inside me that I still have to want to win and to want to win championships," said Gordon. "I would've liked to go about it differently, but I think Sunday did show that that fire and passion is inside me in a big way."
He also believes Bowyer was unwise in the initial clash between them, which forced Gordon to pit with tire damage.
"If you're contending for the championship, you've got to be smart about the things you do on the racetrack," Gordon argued. "There was absolutely no reason to run into me. You've got to understand each guy you're racing with – if they're a guy that needs a ride next year, if they're a guy that's trying to finish 10th or 12th in the points, or whether they're a guy that's racing for the championship. And it goes both ways.
"We were racing for fourth in the points in that race. So there was a lot on the line for us as well as for them. I think it just wasn't very smart of Clint to run into me and know that we had past history this year.
"Afterward, did it sit well with me knowing that I'd taken his [title] hopes out? No. He's a guy that I would consider a friend. There are a lot of things that didn't sit well with me afterward. But it's hard to bring all that into your mind when you're upset about the situation."