The Inside Line: NASCAR’s Chase packing a punch

( – The gloves are off for those drivers and teams that
remain in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

That was quite obvious in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, where Jeff
Gordon and Brad Keselowski were involved in one of the most memorable brawls
in NASCAR’s history.

Texas was the second race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase. Eight drivers
are currently in the playoff field, but after next Sunday’s event at Phoenix
International Raceway, the field will be trimmed to just four drivers who will
battle for the Sprint Cup Series championship on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami
Speedway. This year, NASCAR radically changed its format for the Chase, which
included an expanded field of 16 drivers and a series of elimination rounds.

In the next chapter of NASCAR’s “Boys, Have At It,” mayhem broke out on pit
road after the race had concluded at Texas. While Jimmie Johnson was heading
to victory lane, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Gordon, parked his car
right next to Keselowski on pit road and then approached him to express his
displeasure for an incident that occurred in the closing laps.

Gordon, who is attempting to win his fifth series title this year, held the
lead for the restart in the first of two green-white-checkered finishes, but
Keselowski bumped into him while battling for position following the restart.
Gordon suffered a flat tire from the contact and then spun out in turn 3. He
ended up finishing one lap down in 29th, while Keselowski placed third.

At first, Gordon had heated words with Keselowski while crew members from both
of their teams were engaged in a shoving match. Then second-place finisher
Kevin Harvick approached Keselowski from behind and pushed him. That sparked
the big brawl with plenty of punches being thrown.

“Kevin likes everybody to fight for some reason,” Keselowski said. “I came
here to race, not to fight. I raced as hard as I could, and these guys just
didn’t like it.”

Harvick also was irritated with Keselowski for his actions on the track.

“If you’re going to race like that, you’re going to have to man up at some
point,” Harvick said of Keselowski. “He’s done it several times. Can’t just
turn around and let everybody fight all the time without you in there. Have to
stand up for your actions at some point yourself.”

Both Gordon and Keselowski suffered cuts and bruises to their faces and lips
during the altercation.

“There wasn’t a conversation,” Gordon said. “You can’t have a conversation
with (Keselowski). He gets himself in this position, and he has to pay the
consequences. I’m going to race him the same way he races me. That kind of
stuff is just uncalled for, and I’m not going to stand for it.”

NASCAR is reviewing the incident, and penalties could be forthcoming. NASCAR
senior vice president of competition and racing development Robin Pemberton
said the sanctioning body will look at the film of the fight and determine
what, if any, actions will be taken.

“We knew the new (Chase) format was going to put a lot of pressure on people
to perform and make aggressive moves and decisions out there on the
racetrack,” Pemberton said. “You could see the result of that after the race.
We’re going to take our time, and we’ve got a lot of film to review and things
like that. The important thing is to make the right decision at the end of the

Pemberton did note that NASCAR had no issue with Keselowski making contact
with Gordon after the restart.

“To them (NASCAR), I’m sure it’s a racing incident, but to me, it’s just a
bunch of crap,” Gordon said. “The kid (Keselowski) is just doing stuff way over
his head. That’s just uncalled for. You’re racing for a win and a
championship. You don’t go slam someone and cut their left-rear tire. If
that’s what it takes, then no problem. We can do the same thing to him.”

This is the second time in this 10-race Chase that Keselowski has been in a
physical altercation with another competitor.

After the Oct. 12 night race at Charlotte had ended, Denny Hamlin had to be
restrained from going after Keselowski in the garage area and then Matt
Kenseth started a fight with Keselowski between a pair of team haulers.

Keselowski intentionally bumped Hamlin from behind and attempted to spin him
out during the cool-down lap after the two tangled multiple times following the
last restart with two laps to go. Then on pit road, Keselowski purposely ran
into the back of Kenseth before he bumped Tony Stewart from behind.

NASCAR fined Keselowski $50,000 and placed him on probation for four races for
his actions at Charlotte. The following week, he won the elimination race for
the Contender Round at Talladega Superspeedway, which automatically advanced
him into the Eliminator Round.

“We’ll go through these battles,” Keselowski said. “I’ve gone through them
before and come out stronger. I’ll go through them again and come out
stronger, a better racecar driver.

“But what I’m not going to do is back down. I’m not going to get in the spot
where I was in 2013 where I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be,
because what they want me to be is a loser, and I’m not here to lose. I’m here
to win. That means I’m going to have to drive my car, harder, stronger, faster
than everybody out there. That’s what I feel like I did (Sunday at Texas).”

There were no punches thrown at Charlotte, as Kenseth managed to put
Keselowski in a headlock before Kenseth’s team members were able to pull him
away. Kenseth was not penalized.

With the brawl at Texas being more physical than the skirmish at Charlotte,
NASCAR might hand down stiffer penalties.

“You shouldn’t punch somebody,” Pemberton said. “Everybody gets together, and
when you’re holding on to each other and grabbing and this, that and the
other, it’s one thing. When punches are landed, that’s a different scenario.”

Two years ago in the Chase race at Phoenix, Gordon and Clint Bowyer’s teams
were involved in a post-race fight after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer
in the closing laps.

Gordon was not suspended for the season finale at Homestead, which he won, but
he received a $100,000 fine and a loss of 25 points for his actions.

The series is now heading to Phoenix, but who knows what will happen there
this weekend.

“Everything is just so intense right now,” Harvick said. “Everybody is just
kind of throwing caution to the wind to do all they can for their team.
Everybody is racing as hard as they can. Just glad to be in the mix.”

Just 18 points separate the eight drivers who are still in the Chase. With
none of them winning at either Martinsville or Texas, all four positions for
the championship race at Homestead have yet to be determined.