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).