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article imageNASCAR: Punches fly on pit road as season draws to close

By John Duarte     Nov 3, 2014 in Sports
Fort Worth - For the second time in the past few weeks, tempers flared on pit road after a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Heated words flew and so did the fists.
As had been the case three weeks earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski was in the middle of a melee. This time it was Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick who took objection to Keselowski's on track behaviour.
The spark for the confrontation between Gordon and Keselowski started moments earlier during the first attempt at a green-white-checker finish. Gordon took issue with contact between the two drivers, which caused him to spin and dealt a blow to his chances in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. If there are no race winners in the Eliminator Round, the four drivers advancing to the championship race will be decided by points. Gordon came to Texas leading the Chase standings, but dropped to fourth after the incident, which saw him finish 29th in the race. He sits just one point shy of falling to seventh overall. Gordon is chasing his fifth Sprint Cup championship, but the first since 2001.
After the race, Gordon pulled up alongside Keselowski on pit road and registered his frustration. Once out of his car, he quickly confronted Keselowski and the two drivers exchanged punches. Both drivers suffered cuts to their faces. Gordon said Keselowski could have avoided the whole incident.
“He made an over-aggressive move,” said Gordon, venting his frustration. “Those moves are fine if you've got a slamming, banging race. But he cut my left rear tire and that was it for me.”
When asked by his crew chief on the radio as to what had caused him to spin, Gordon said, “(Expletive) 2 (Keselowski) car ran into us, that's what happened.”
Keselowski, who was Sprint Cup champion in 2012, said his main objective is “to win races for (team owner) Roger Penske and for my team” and he will continue to do what it takes to win races, even if that “requires a tiny bit of rubbing.” He sees no need to apologize for his racing style.
“If Roger Penske came to me tomorrow and said, 'Brad, you drove that race wrong. You shouldn't have done what you did.' It would affect me,” Keselowski said. “But the management team at Penske tells me to drive the way the way I did and tells me there's nothing to be ashamed of and continues to support me. As long as they are on my side, I feel strong and I feel proud and encouraged to continue.”
Gordon said something has to be done about the way Keselowski behaves on the track.
“He does things that force his team to have to defend him like that,” he said. “It's his disregard for what's going on out there. It's a real shame, you know?”
Several crews of other race teams got involved in the confrontation between Gordon and Keselowski, including Harvick.
NASCAR is investigating the post-race fracas at Texas Motor Speedway, but officials have already announced there is no issue with the on-track incident that triggered it all.
“It was hard racing and this is a contact sport,” said NASCAR's senior vice president of competition and racing development, Robin Pemberton. “You look at what drivers are trying to do. We had a couple of shots a green-white-checkered finish and everybody was going for it. Nobody was leaving anything behind.”
NASCAR does, however, take issue with drivers and crew members exchange more than just words.
“You shouldn't punch somebody,” Pemberton said. “Everybody gets together and, when you're holding on to each others and grabbing at this, that and the other, that's one thing. When punches are landed, that's a different scenario.”
Keselowski is already on probation for the incident at Charlotte and, if NASCAR officials decide further penalties are warranted, his chances of further contending for the Sprint Cup in 2014 could be severely hampered.
Pemberton said that competitive racing brings out strong emotions in drivers. When you throw a playoff-style championship format, like the one NASCAR implemented for this year's Sprint Cup, that is bound to increase drivers' competitive levels even more.
“We knew the format was going to put a lot of pressure on people to perform and make aggressive moves and decisions out there on the race track,” he said.
Pemberton added that violence will not be tolerated, however, and that officials for the sanctioning body of the series have “a lot of work to do this week” and will be reviewing video of the incident.
“The important thing is to make the right decision at the end of the day,” said the NASCAR vice president. “We're going to take our time.”
The actual AAA Texas 500 was nearly an afterthought. Despite being eliminated from defending his Sprint Cup title a few weeks ago, Jimmie Johnson won his third-straight fall race at Texas Motor Speedway. Harvick finished second and Keselowski was third.
An incident on Lap 332, of the scheduled 334, forced the first attempt at the green-white-checker finish, while the incident involving Keselowski and Gordon on Lap 340 led to the second attempt at ending the race.
As there has been no winners in the first two races of the Eliminator Round, all eyes will be on Phoenix International Raceway for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, on Nov. 9, 2014. It will be an all-out war for the eight drivers still chasing the Sprint Cup. After the Arizona race, the field of contenders will be trimmed to the four, with the 2014 champion being crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway, on Nov. 16, 2014.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, texas motor speedway, Brad Keselowski, jeff gordon
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