A tense sequence of events at the end of tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway culminated with a post-race clash involving Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, and their respective crews.
The matter began on the cooldown lap after Kevin Harvick had won the race. Keselowski attempted to spin Denny Hamlin in Turn 3 before running into Kenseth and Tony Stewart at the entrance to pit road.
Stewart took exception and backed his car into Keselowski’s, inflicting serious front-end damage to the No. 2 Ford.
When the group returned to the garage, Hamlin climbed out of his No. 11 Toyota and had to be restrained by his Joe Gibbs Racing team as he expressed his displeasure with Keselowski.
Keselowski then walked away from the scene and in between a pair of haulers when Kenseth came up from behind and forcefully grabbed him.
The scrum escalated between the haulers and included members of their teams for a short time before dissipating.
In post-race comments to ESPN, Kenseth said that as a former Sprint Cup champion, Keselowski should have known better.
“He was doing something with Denny there – I don’t know if he was mad with him,” Kenseth said. “I had my HANS [device] off, my seat belt off and everything, and he clobbers me at, like, 50 [miles per hour].
“The race is over – try and come back to pit road and if you want to talk about it like a man, go do that. But to try and wreck somebody on the race track – come down pit road with other cars and people standing around and my seatbelt’s off – driving in the side of me is inexcusable.”
Kenseth had also made contact with Keselowski on a restart with 63 laps to go that had enabled Hamlin to take over the lead.
In that exchange, Kenseth appeared to have a big run on Keselowski, who then seemed to move up as they went through the tri-oval. Kenseth then clipped the wall and fell out of the Top 15 as he tried to get back up to speed; when asked about it, Kenseth felt Keselowski “ran him out of room.”
Keselowski thought the restart incident with Kenseth was simply a racing deal, but said that when Kenseth took a wave-around to return to the lead lap under the final caution, he hit him.
“When we restart in fifth with no right-front [bumper] on it, we fell all the way back to 16th and it ruined our day,” he said. “It gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate. And then for some reason after the race, the 11 [Hamlin] stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight.”
Then came the incident with Hamlin on the cool-down lap.
“I don’t know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car,” Keselowski said. “So I figured if we were gonna play Car Wars under yellow and after the race, I’ll join too.
“Those guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it and I gave it back to them. And now they want to fight. I don’t know what’s up with that.”
As for the contact with Kenseth and Stewart, Keselowski appeared to say that it was Kenseth who ran into Stewart, not himself. In any case, Keselowski’s car certainly got the worst of it in the end.
“I rubbed into the 20 [Kenseth] and I think he gassed up and ran into Tony,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think Tony knew what was going on, so he’s probably upset and he has every right to be. His car got tore up.
“But there was a whole lot of other stuff going on, and I’m sure when he sees the whole situation, he’ll understand.”
Hamlin was starting ahead of Keselowski on the restart with two to go and he figured that the Penske pilot would be aggressive considering his situation in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But after what he felt as being knocked up the track by Keselowski, Hamlin decided to brake-check him down the backstretch on the cool-down lap before Keselowski’s unsuccessful attempt to spin him.
“And then we got to pit lane, he just plowed into the 14 [Stewart] and the 20 [Kenseth],” he continued. “The 14, his belts were off and he ran into him. Then he ran into us again coming onto pit road, and then he went to the garage, did burnouts, and knocked somebody’s transmission clear into somebody else’s pit stall.
“He was just out of control.”
Hamlin then said that NASCAR had declared “no tolerance” for such behavior. When asked to clarify that, he then said “NASCAR hasn’t told me anything” before adding:
“They told me, ‘Don’t go after him. You’ve got too much to lose.’ If I would have wrecked, he would’ve been in big trouble. I’d be waiting for him. He cost us six spots, but what goes around comes around.”
Hamlin ended up ninth at the finish, while Keselowski and Kenseth were 16th and 19th respectively.