Kevin Harvick pushes Brad Keselowski, then leaves the rest to Jeff Gordon

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After 13 years of battling in the Sprint Cup wars, Kevin Harvick knows that you have to pick your spots both on and off the racetrack.

After Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 was over, Harvick could see the maelstrom building around Brad Keselowski.

Harvick was incensed at a late conflict with Keselowski and pushed him from behind on pit road to get his attention.

When Keselowski looked back at Harvick, that gave Jeff Gordon the opening he was looking for, grabbing Keselowski by the collar of his firesuit.

And the brawl was on from that point.

Wisely, Harvick decided to back off as quickly as he approached Keselowski and let others have at it. After all, Harvick did not want to jeopardize either his runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson, nor his still alive bid to advance to the season finale and championship-deciding race at Homestead in two weeks.

“We fought all day, put ourselves in a position to win,” Harvick said. “A lot happened late in this race and we were able to put ourselves back in the hunt.”

While Harvick can be aggressive himself, he was surprised at what Keselowski did to Gordon, cutting down a left rear tire that eventually blew out, sending Gordon into a spin and ultimately dropping from a potential win to a disappointing 29th-place finish.

Obviously everyone was racing for everything they can,” Harvick said after the race. “We had a couple cautions there at the end.

“But yeah, the 2 (Keselowski) just bulldozed the 24 (Gordon) and the 24 wrecked. 48 (Johnson) and the 2 raced hard.

“At that point, there’s no rules and you hope for the best. Then after the race all hell broke loose. I told Brad he’s gotta fight his own fight.”

Having had his own conflict with Keselowski at Charlotte (as did Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart), and then an inadvertent conflict with Matt Kenseth last week at Martinsville, Harvick can empathize with how Gordon was feeling.

“Yeah, we kinda had the same thing last week,” Harvick said. “Everything’s just so intense right now. We’re throwing caution to the wind. Everyone’s racing as hard as they can. I’m glad to be in the mix.”

Harvick said he would not have taken the chance that Keselowski did that late in the race. There’s being aggressive, but Harvick felt Keselowski stepped over that line when he made contact with Gordon.

“I couldn’t run over the 24 and the 48 like that,” Harvick said. “I think (Keselowski’s) racing as hard as he can for his team. When it gets down to that type of racing, these things will happen as they happen.

“You’re just trying to do all you can do. Obviously, it was no-holds-barred there with the 2 (Keselowski). He was in bulldoze mode.”

The new elimination format for this year’s Chase is generating much of the bitter feelings and conflict between drivers.

“It’s being played rough,” Harvick said. “It’s just one of those deals where everybody’s trying to get everything they can, and you just do what you can to do the best for your team.”

Perhaps that was what Keselowski was trying to do as well, but when you take a chance like that, there’s a price to pay.

“If you’re gonna race like that, you’re gonna have to man up,” Harvick said.

Will there be any carryover between Gordon and Keselowski next Sunday at Phoenix?

Harvick didn’t get into specifics, but there’s much to be read between the lines, when he smiled and said, “Next week’s gonna be pretty crazy.”

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IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500