Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 4 – Jeff Gordon vs. Brad Keselowski at Texas

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source: AP
The post-race fracas at Texas Motor Speedway this past fall. Photo: AP.

MotorSportsTalk is counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we come to No. 4, and we’re sticking with Gordon for his most memorable moment of 2014 – his post-race fight with Brad Keselowski at Texas Motor Speedway…

As part of NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, three rounds of elimination were implemented at every third race in the 10-race stretch. Those were designed to cut a field of 16 drivers to four for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

By doing this, NASCAR created an intense, pressure-filled environment for the Chase drivers. Perhaps inevitably, the ability for some drivers and teams to control their emotions – already running high in the heat of a championship battle – went out the window.

It happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Contender Round. A post-race disagreement on the track between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin also drew in Matt Kenseth, and it all led to Kenseth jumping Keselowski from behind between a pair of haulers before their crews separated them.

But three weeks later in the Eliminator Round at Texas Motor Speedway, that incident was topped after Keselowski drew the ire of one of the sport’s legends, Jeff Gordon.

A late restart saw Gordon and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson up front with Keselowski behind them. As they made their way into Turn 1, Gordon went slightly wide and left an opening, which Keselowski quickly tried to fill.

Instead, Gordon and Keselowski made contact. Gordon quickly fell back and then spun in Turn 4 with a flat left rear tire. The tire failure relegated him to a 29th-place finish.

Holding Keselowski responsible for the tire issue, Gordon sought him out after the race on pit road. At first, it appeared it would be nothing more than Gordon letting loose a few expletives at Keselowski.

But then along came Kevin Harvick, who pushed Keselowski in the back and quickly drew away as Gordon grabbed a hold of Keselowski’s collar. The scene devolved into a massive scrum, with both Gordon and Keselowski sporting bloody lips when it finally cleared up.

“He’s just a dips***,” Gordon said of Keselowski afterwards. “I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship and I’m just sick and tired of him. That’s why everybody is fighting and running him down. Your emotions are high. That was a huge, huge race for us. We had the car, we had the position.”

As for Keselowski, he stated that he had no choice but to be aggressive on the track, especially after he had failed to make the 2013 Chase following his 2012 Cup championship run.

“That means when there’s a gap, I have to take it,” he said. “If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that’s okay. It’s not anything I don’t expect on the other side. Plenty of times where I got rubbed. It will go both ways. That’s okay by me.”

Ultimately, both Gordon and Keselowski were eliminated from the Chase at Phoenix, while Harvick won that race to make the Championship 4. At Homestead, he would win again to earn his first Cup title.

A few weeks after the season ended, Gordon mentioned that he had now started to ponder over the Eliminator Round opener at Martinsville.

He finished second in that event to Dale Earnhardt Jr., but had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty to do it. Without that penalty, Gordon may have won that race and gone on to Homestead to compete for his fifth crown.

But while he’s remembering that race, it’s likely that his Texas donnybrook with Keselowski will be remembered by many more people – and for a much longer time as well.

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

ProMotocross.com
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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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