On Sunday afternoon, at the AdvoCare 500 in Phoenix, Arizona, Brad Keselowski almost certainly became the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Thanks to a mid-race right front tire failure that put Jimmie Johnson hard into the wall, Keselowski merely has to finish next weekend in 15th spot or better, and that’s assuming he misses out on bonus points for laps led.

Kevin Harvick picked up his first win of the 2012 season by battling Kyle Busch in the closing laps, and again on a green-white-checkered restart, but even that wasn’t the big news. The big news happened on the next-to-final lap, when Jeff Gordon decided to go hunting for Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer and Gordon had a history of run-ins throughout the 2012 season, and after late race contact from Bowyer, Gordon decided enough was enough. Slowing to allow Bowyer to catch him, Gordon deliberately put his Michael Waltrip racing opponent into the wall, collecting several other cars in the process.

The tally nearly included Keselowski, who skated through the wreckage with just feet to spare. As Gordon returned to the pits, tempers flared and a brawl ensued between Gordon’s crew and Bowyer’s crew. Even Bowyer wanted in on the action, sprinting from his wrecked race car to Gordon’s transporter in search of the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

NASCAR red-flagged the race, then did a haphazard job of cleaning up the wreckage and spilled fluids. When the race was eventually restarted for the final lap, oil on the track ensured a massive wreck off the final corner, and it was truly surprising that all drivers involved escaped injury.

And therein lies the problem with the sport: to give the fans the fender-banging action they expect, drivers lives are needlessly put at risk, and teams now face massive work and expense to rebuild wrecked cars in time for next week’s Homestead finale.

Worse, Bowyer’s run for the championship was negated by Jeff Gordon on Sunday, seemingly without penalty. We can’t name another series where purposely wrecking a competitor (and endangering the lives of other drivers) nets you only a stern talking-to.

While wrecks and brawls may be good entertainment, fatal crashes aren’t. Unless NASCAR does something to rein in driver behavior on track, it’s just a matter of when, not if, someone gets killed behind the wheel.