It happens every fall, at least in recent years.
Jimmie Johnson won the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway for the third straight year, holding off runner-up Kevin Harvick and third-place Brad Keselowski after Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 went to two overtimes.
The action in the second race of the Chase’s Eliminator Round was scintillating enough, but it couldn’t match the intensity of a post-race brawl on pit road that left Keselowski and Jeff Gordon bruised and bloodied.
Johnson, who was eliminated from the Chase two weeks ago at Talladega, led the field to the green flag on Lap 340, the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, with Keselowski to his outside. As both drivers rolled through the first two corners wide open, Johnson inched ahead, ultimately clearing Keselowski’s Ford and pulling away.
Harvick passed Keselowski for second place but couldn’t catch Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, which crossed the finish line .513 seconds ahead of Harvick’s No. 4 car.
But it was the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish that caused all the controversy and helped to scramble the Chase standings with only next Sunday’s event at Phoenix International Raceway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN) left to determine which four drivers race for the series championship Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gordon was the race leader at the time and picked the outside lane for a restart on Lap 335 with Johnson to his inside. Keselowski restarted third and tried to split the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers—in what Harvick would later call “bulldoze mode”—and ran out of room.
Contact from Keselowski’s car cut Gordon’s left rear tire, causing Gordon to spin on the backstretch, which in turn brought out the record 13th caution of the race. Gordon finished 29th and dropped from first to fourth in the Chase standings, just one point clear of 25th-place finisher and polesitter Matt Kenseth in fifth.
“We drove down into Turn 1, and he just decided to body-slam us and cut our left-rear tire,” an irate Gordon said after wading through a mass of crewmen to get to Keselowski. “It ruined our night. It ruined our chances, ruined our night, might have even ruined our Chase hopes.
“It’s just uncalled for. I had to show my displeasure. It got ugly down there, obviously, and you know that’s alright. A lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of weeks.”
If Gordon had issues with the way Keselowski raced him, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford was unapologetic.
“I'm not trying to dish out something that I couldn't take myself,” Keselowski said. “But these guys have their own code, and they race differently than that. That's their right. We'll go through these battles. I've gone through them before and come out stronger. I'll go through them again and come out stronger, a better race car 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, you know, 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 today.”
In Victory Lane, savoring his fourth win of the season, his record fourth victory at Texas and the 70th of his career, Johnson could only shake his head at the unplanned fireworks after the race.
“I saw a little bit on the big screen going down the back straightaway,” said Johnson. “I would definitely have to go to the tape and watch and see what happened there. I know that second-to-last restart, I got hit from behind and I know Brad got to my outside, and I guess in the process of running into me and getting to the outside lane he ruffled some feathers.
“Just an exciting night for us. We had a very fast race car, led a lot of laps (191 of 341). Those cautions at the end, one restart would help me, the other would hurt me—and in the end we got it done.”
The wild action at Texas, which saw 12 of the 13 cautions occur after the halfway point, left the Chase wide open, with all eight eligible drivers within an 18-point range.
Joey Logano recovered from a spin to finish 12th and shares the Chase lead with Denny Hamlin, who ran 10th. Ryan Newman is third in points, two behind Logano and Hamlin, after a 15th-place finish that could have been better, but for a tire rub resulting from contact on a late restart.
Gordon is fourth, 12 out of the lead and one point ahead of Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who rallied from two laps down, avoided the bumping and banging on the track and finished an unlikely ninth. Keselowski heads to Phoenix seventh in the standings, 17 points out of first place and one point ahead of Harvick in eighth.
With at least three of the four championship-eligible positions in the final race to be determined on points, none of the eight drivers goes to Phoenix with any degree of security.
Notes: Kyle Busch’s bid for a Texas weekend sweep of NASCAR’s top three series fizzled early. The winner of Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and Saturday’s Nationwide Series event was lapped by Johnson on Lap 125, but he recovered to finish fourth…
Kenseth became the all-time lap leader at Texas Motor Speedway during the opening run, leading the first 53 laps and 59 all told to bring his career total at Texas to 834, surpassing Tony Stewart’s 801.
Johnson wins at Texas; Keselowski and Gordon brawl on pit road
It happens every fall, at least in recent years.