Jimmie Johnson finally returned to form last night at Texas Motor Speedway, only to have his victory effectively buried by a pit-road melee between teammate Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.
In the immediate aftermath, Johnson said he still needed to see everything that transpired between Gordon and Keselowski.
However, he seemed to indicate that such a situation was likely to occur for two reasons: The fact that Keselowski was in a massive points hole going into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 and the new Chase format’s emphasis on winning to advance into the next round – which, in this case, is the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“When your only opportunity to advance is to win – [Keselowski] had a bad race in Martinsville, he’s got to do all he can to win,” said Johnson, who earned his first victory since June.
“So the system is breeding this. It was by design. I think [NASCAR Chairman] Brian France sat back and looked long and hard at this and was hopeful that these moments would happen. It’s changing the way things take place on the track.
“When I think back to when I started, we’d point people by, let them go. There was this gentleman agreement on the racetrack. Everybody told you to study Mark Martin, watch how he lets people go. That hasn’t happened in years. We’ll cut each other’s throat any chance we get. It’s just trending that way.”
The fracas between Gordon and Keselowski was the second post-race fight during this Chase for the Sprint Cup and also the second to involve Keselowski, who was attacked from behind by Matt Kenseth in the climax to a sequence of events following the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte.
Leading up to Sunday’s race, Johnson was asked about what he figured NASCAR fans wanted to see during a Friday press conference. He stated that the majority of NASCAR fans – but not all – were seeking “raw emotion” in a variety of ways: wrecks, arguments, physical confrontations, and the like.
When asked pretty much the same question following the race, Johnson recognized that while “diehard fans” probably don’t want to see constant fights, such things are likely to bring in a good amount of buzz from beyond the base – for better or worse.
“That’s unfortunately what leads to those big headlines,” said Johnson, who added that he trusts NASCAR to make the right decisions in regard to making the sport successful.
But one has to wonder if the buzz from Texas right now will carry over to this coming weekend’s Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix International Raceway.
One week after the Kenseth vs. Keselowski scuffle at Charlotte, the series visited Talladega for the Contender Round finale. Considering what occurred in Charlotte and the fact that ‘Dega was an Chase elimination race, you figured that folks would certainly be tuning in.
Instead, the race lost 600,000 TV viewers from its total in 2013.
Phoenix track officials announced yesterday that it had sold out all of its grandstand seats for Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. Time will tell if the Texas saga will resonate on a national level and help bolster what’s sure to be an action-packed event.