Jimmie Johnson wins at Texas; Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski involved in post-race fight

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Once again, Jimmie Johnson was the star in the fall at Texas Motor Speedway. And once again, Brad Keselowski was at the center of a post-race fight in this year’s Chase.

Johnson survived two green-white-checkered attempts to earn his third consecutive fall race victory this evening in Fort Worth. But his triumph was promptly overshadowed by a scrap on pit road between Keselowski and Jeff Gordon, as well as their respective crews.

The melee stemmed from contact between the two during the first of the two GWC attempts. Gordon and Johnson were up front at the drop of the green for GWC1, but when third-place Keselowski went for what he thought was an opening left by Gordon, he instead hit the four-time Sprint Cup champion in Turn 1.

Gordon fell back and two turns later, he spun out with an apparent tire failure to bring out the yellow and set up GWC2. Before the field was frozen, Johnson had pulled ahead of Keselowski, and during GWC2, Johnson cleared Keselowski to take the point as the white flag flew.

Johnson subsequent pulled away to the victory, finishing off a strong afternoon for him in which he led 191 laps. But as he celebrated, Gordon pulled alongside third-place finisher Keselowski in the pits and after climbing out, he made his way toward Keselowski’s “Blanco Deuce.”

As Keselowski emerged from his car, one of his crew members kept Gordon at bay as he angrily shouted at the Team Penske pilot. But just when it seemed that would be all, second-place finisher Kevin Harvick entered the picture and pushed Keselowski from behind.

Perhaps sensing an opening, Gordon made his own push forward and managed to get his hand on Keselowski’s collar. The scrum was on.

When things settled down – with both drivers having sustained a slight bit of blood around their mouths – Keselowski said he was simply going for a hole on the track.

“We’re racing for the win,” he told ESPN. “[Wasn’t trying] to wreck him, just racing hard. He left a hole and you know, everything you watch in racing, you leave a hole, you’re supposed to go for it. It closed back up and we made contact.

“I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day. I want to win the race and that was our opportunity. Just didn’t come together.”

Gordon, who was relegated to a 29th-place finish after his spin, was having none of that.

“I spun the tires a little bit but I got a pretty decent start and we went down into [Turn]1 and I just wanted to get to the outside of the 48 [Johnson] – and out of nowhere, I got slammed by the 2 [Keselowski] and it cut my left rear tire,” he said.

“He’s just a dips—. The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship. And I’m just sick and tired of him. That’s why everybody’s fighting him and running him down.”

Meanwhile, Harvick also had a few words with Keselowski as well.

“I told Brad he’s gotta fight his own fight,” he said. “Next week’s gonna be pretty crazy.”

And through it all, Johnson basked in the glory after earning his first win since Michigan in June (a span of 19 races).

“It’s a testament to the team and the fact that we’ll never give up,” he said in Victory Lane. “We’ll always keep fighting and they keep trying to make our cars better.

“We’re not in the Chase, not where we want to be – fighting for the championship. But it’s a great day today…[It’s been] a Chase that was tough for us, but to redeem ourselves here and come out with a victory is really, really cool.”

He too also noted the intense atmosphere that has set in during the Chase and has now helped spark a second major post-race donnybrook.

“Emotions run high and when somebody does you wrong and you don’t have a chance to repay them on the race track, bring it into the garage area and do something with it there,” he said.

“We’re all in a position to win a championship, and this is what happens. I’m sure it was highly entertaining today and I can’t wait to go back and watch the tape.”

As for how the Eliminator Round now looks heading into its finale next week at Phoenix International Raceway, Joey Logano holds the top spot on the Chase Grid after recovering from both a disastrous late-race pit stop and spin on track to finish 12th.

Both he and Denny Hamlin (finished 10th) have a 13-point cushion over the cutoff to advance to the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead.

Ryan Newman is now third with an 11-point cushion, while Gordon has fallen to the fourth and final advance position with just a 1-point edge over both Matt Kenseth (finished 25th) and Carl Edwards (finished 9th).

Keselowski and Harvick’s own strong finishes today allowed them to make up serious ground. While they remain on the bad side of the cutoff, Keselowski is now down by just five points (a gain of 21 points from where he was going into today) and Harvick by six points (a similar gain of 22 points).

NHRA: Top 10 storylines of the 2019 season

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The 2019 NHRA season wound up being one where there was almost as much news and highlights made off the drag strip as on it.

That was the case in two of the top four storylines for the recently completed season, with the top story occurring even before the first pass down a drag strip in competition took place.

We’ve also included a poll for you to vote and see if you agree with our picks or not.

Here’s how our top 10 looks:

1. A Force-ful departure: Just two weeks before the 2019 season was due to open, Funny Car driver Courtney Force, daughter of 16-time champion John Force, stunned the drag racing world by announcing she was taking a hiatus from the sport – although she insisted she was not retiring. The wife of IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, Force turned over her high dollar Advance Auto Parts sponsorship to sister and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, who had previously been sponsored by Monster Energy. Courtney Force became the second high-profile female drag racer to step away from the sport in just over a year, joining fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, who went on hiatus after the 2017 season. This past October, DeJoria announced she would return to full-time NHRA competition in 2020. But as for Courtney, she remains on hiatus for at least the time being.

2. Torrence’s Texas two-step: Proud Texas native Steve Torrence won his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in 2019, winning nine races (including eight in a nine-race stretch). While Torrence enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, winning 11 races and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, he won just one playoff race in 2019. But he still managed to earn just enough points to hold off his closest rival, Doug Kalitta, by a mere three points for the second championship. Also of note: Steve’s father Billy finished a career-best fifth in the final standings, even though he competed in just 16 of the season’s 24 national events.

3. What happened to ‘The Sarge’? Tony Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins. But he was essentially AWOL in 2019, failing to compete in even one race. The reason: sponsorship. Or more precisely, lack thereof. The U.S. Army, which had sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years – which prompted him to adopt the colorful nickname of “The Sarge” pulled its funding after the 2018 season, leaving Schumacher without a fully-funded ride for 2019. Rather than try to race piecemeal from race to race with limited sponsorship, the son of team owner Don Schumacher decided to watch the season from the sidelines. How Schumacher could not attract a new big dollar sponsor, given his domination and success in the Top Fuel class, is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Schumacher – who turns 50 on Christmas Day – may remain sidelined in 2020.

John Force

4. A Force to be reckoned with once again: Even though he fell short of adding to his record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, the 2019 season was definitely one of resurgence for John Force, the sport’s winningest and most popular driver ever. Force, who turned 70 years old in May, isn’t letting age slow him down, earning two wins during the season – including a milestone 150th Funny Car victory of his career – and finished fourth in the standings (up from ninth in 2018, seventh in 2017, and his best finish since he ended up fourth in 2016).

Robert Hight

5. At the Hight of his success: Robert Hight isn’t flashy or verbose as his boss, John Force. But when he’s not working as president of John Force Racing, the soft-spoken Hight has become one of the premier drivers in Funny Car history. In 2019, he earned his third Funny Car championship – his second in the last three seasons and third since 2009. Along the way, he captured six wins, was runner-up three other times, reached the semifinals five times and led all drivers as the No. 1 qualifier for eight races (a full one-third of the season). This was perhaps the most dominant championship of all for Hight, including leading the Funny Car standings for 23 of the 24-race season.

Erica Enders

6. Erica’s baaaaccckkkk: Erica Enders is back on top of her game, and on top of the Pro Stock category, earning her third championship in the last six seasons (and first since 2015). Admittedly, her championship came in the first year of a shortened Pro Stock schedule, having been cut from a full 24 races to just 18. Still, the Texas native won two races, finished runner-up three other times and reached the semifinals four other times. Also of note, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate, five-time Pro Stoc champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., came oh, so close to winning his sixth title, finishing just 21 points behind Enders in the final standings.

Doug Kalitta

7. What does he have to do to win first championship? Doug Kalitta came the closest he ever has to earning the first Top Fuel championship of his 20-year drag racing career, finishing just three points behind Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel rankings. It was almost heartbreaking as Kalitta seemingly did everything he needed to do to win the championship, including winning the season-ending race in Pomona, California, one of three wins he earned (as well as two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings). Kalitta began the season with a win at Pomona, as well. But Torrence came into the season-ending event at Pomona with just enough of a lead (and reached the semifinals) to hold off Kalitta’s challenge. How close was Kalitta from winning the championship? If he had advanced one more round in any of the six playoff races, he would have bested Torrence. Unfortunately, in a sense, Kalitta – nephew of legendary NHRA team owner and racer Connie Kalitta – has become the Mark Martin of NHRA Top Fuel: always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to winning a championship. But there’s still hope, Kalitta fans: he’s going to give it another try in 2020. Maybe that will be his year – finally.

Andrew Hines

8. He’s one heck of an easy rider: Andrew Hines made it look easy in 2019 – although it was far from it – when he earned his sixth career NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship (and first since 2015). Son of past PSM champion Byron Hines, Andrew Hines enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons ever of his career — not to mention one of the most dominating seasons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category — winning eight of the 16 PSM events contested, along with earning two runner-up and three semifinal finishes. Hines held off 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie by 26 points and 2018 champ Matt Smith by 46 points.

JR Todd

9. What a difference a year makes: JR Todd had an exceptional season in 2018, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Not surprisingly, the Indiana native went on to win the Funny Car championship that season for Kalitta Motorsports. But one year later, Todd was seemingly an afterthought when it came to challenging for the Funny Car crown once again. For as good as he was in 2018, Todd struggled through much of the 2019 season with just one win, three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings, a distant 246 points behind series champ Robert Hight, who was second to Todd in 2018.

Austin Prock

10. Strong start for sport’s top rookie: When your father is renowned crew chief Jimmy Prock, it’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Such is the case of Austin Prock, who finished his first season in Top Fuel by earning NHRA’s rookie of the year honors. The younger Prock finished eighth in the Top Fuel season standings, including one win and five semifinal finishes driving for John Force Racing. Ironically, he finished one spot higher than three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who had a rough season, finishing ninth in the standings, with no wins, two runner-up showings and reached the semifinals just five times.

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