Wild Race Blows Championship Open For Keselowski
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- When the fighting stopped, the oil had dried and the last of the wrecked cars had been towed away, Brad Keselowski found himself on the brink of a first Sprint Cup title for himself and team owner Roger Penske.
Only he wasn't in a celebratory mood.
He entered Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway trailing five-time champion Jimmie Johnson by seven points and had the better car all day. And moments after Keselowski raced his way into the lead, a blown tire caused Johnson to crash and take his battered car to the garage for repairs.
It helped Keselowski, who finished sixth, to a 20-point lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he'll clinch the title with a finish of 15th or better.
"I wanted to take the points lead by winning a race and not relying on a failure," Keselowski said.
Johnson's sudden misfortune was a dramatic and stunning turn in the most chaotic race of the year.
It proved to be just the warm-up act in a race that could go down as the one many fans will call the best of the season.
Probably for all the wrong reasons.
And that's what had Keselowski so upset.
"I'm more just disappointed in the quality of racing that we saw," he said. "I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and I was ashamed to be a part of it."
Kevin Harvick snapped a 44-race losing streak by beating Kyle Busch on a pair of late restarts, the ironic winner on the same weekend news leaked he's reportedly signed a deal to leave Richard Childress Racing to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
Harvick and Busch crossed the finish line ahead of a melee of crashing cars, a chain reaction caused in part because NASCAR failed to throw a caution when Danica Patrick was spun on the restart. Then others slid in oil, into Patrick's wrecked car, bounced all over the track, and even Keselowski was hit.
But the carnage was simply the final exclamation point in a sequence triggered by four-time champion Jeff Gordon. He intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, and that led to a full brawl in the garage and a red-flag of nearly 15 minutes for clean up on the track.
Keselowski was tweeting during the delay from inside his car -- a practice he first did during a jet fuel fire in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- and NASCAR had officially reached three-ring circus status.
This one began as the field closed in on what should have been the final lap and Gordon slowed his car to wait for Bowyer so he could intentionally wreck him as retaliation for several weeks of on-track contact between the two.
After Gordon climbed from his car in the garage, he appeared to be jumped from behind by one of Bowyer's crew members. It led to a full brawl between the crews, with Bowyer sprinting from his car to join the fracas. Bowyer was held back by NASCAR officials from entering Gordon's hauler.
"It's pretty embarrassing," Bowyer said. "For a four-time champion, and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous."
Both drivers and their crew chiefs were called to the NASCAR hauler for a meeting with series officials, and police officers stood outside on guard.
Gordon said he's had problems with Bowyer all season and had reached his limit.
He said he didn't know what penalties might be coming from NASCAR.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said the situation would be looked at further this week.
But Keselowski was livid, questioning the double-standard a week after he was criticized for racing hard on the final restarts against Johnson last week at Texas.
He could have wrecked Johnson for the victory, and three years ago he might have done just that. But Keselowski was only aggressive, and even after losing the race was condemned by some of his fellow competitors.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart said Keselowski had "a death wish" and Kyle Busch felt some drivers wouldn't give Keselowski a break on the track because he raced Johnson too hard on the last restart.
"It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half-dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish," he said. "These guys just tried to kill each other ... they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."
He'll move on now to Homestead, where a conservative day should be enough to wrap up the title.
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