Jimmie Johnson on Chase drama: “The system is breeding this…by design”

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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.

Indy Lights: Kyle Kirkwood joins Andretti Autosport

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One of the Road to Indy’s most talented young drivers will climb another step up the development system ladder this season.

Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion, has signed a contract to race for Andretti Autosport in the 2020 Indy Lights season. Kirkwood will drive the No. 28 car for the reigning championship team.

A native of Jupiter, Florida, 21-year-old Kirkwood has been incredibly successful in junior formulas over the last few years. He won the F4 US Championship 2017 and won both the F3 Americas and USF2000 titles in 2018.

Driving for RP Motorsport Racing, Kirkwood won 9 of 16 races in his maiden Indy Pro 2000 season last year, allowing him to win his fourth championship in three years and earn the Road to Indy scholarship.

“We are very excited about the addition of Kyle to our Indy Lights program,” Andretti Autosport CEO and Chairman Michael Andretti said. “We’ve followed Kyle’s career from when he started in 2018 with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and have been impressed with his success in every race that led to his Indy Pro 2000 Championship last year. As a championship-caliber team, Kyle displays the desire and talent that we look for in our drivers and are excited to see him hit the track for the 2020 Indy Lights season.”

Kirkwood previously drove for Andretti in a two-day test session at Sebring International Raceway in December. He will make his official debut for the team in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg on March 14-15.

“I am ecstatic that I can now say I am competing in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport this season,” Kirkwood said. “They have established a winning program in Indy Lights and we plan on carrying that reputation throughout 2020.

“We are a fantastic match for each other and our Sebring test in December proved that.”

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