For a guy who had all but clinched his first Sprint Cup championship, Brad Keselowski was in a foul mood following Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Keselowski just had finished sixth in the race -- 39 laps and 26 places in front of Jimmie Johnson, the driver with whom he was competing most closely in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Those dual results, with Johnson's uncharacteristically poor finish brought on by a right-front tire failure that caused him to slam into the outside wall, more than erased the seven-point deficit in the points standings that Keselowski had carried into the day.
Now, all he has to do is show up for the season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, run 15th or better without leading a lap, and it doesn't matter what Johnson does. Keselowski, who now has a 20-point advantage because he earned a bonus point that Johnson lacked for leading at least one lap, will be crowned champion.
So, Brad, why so serious?
"I felt like we had a race-winning car, and I wanted to take the points lead by winning a race and not relying on a failure," Keselowski said. "But sometimes that's not how the sport works, and you have to accept that. I'm just more disappointed in the quality of racing that we saw. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and I was ashamed to be a part of it."
Making their points
Keselowski clarified that he was talking about the way the race ended. The wildest finish of the season began with Jeff Gordon deliberately wrecking Clint Bowyer as the field came to the white flag, signifying one lap to go in the scheduled 312-lap race. A melee between the drivers' pit crews ensued on pit road, followed by Bowyer doing his best Usain Bolt impression as he sprinted for Gordon's hauler and presumably more than a mere word or two with the four-time Cup champion.
* Video:Gordon retaliates against Bowyer | Sound Off
Bowyer was intercepted by Gordon team members and a couple of local deputy sheriffs before he could do what he really desired.
Keselowski, who avoided disaster when he narrowly missed catching a piece of the considerable collateral damage caused by the Gordon-Bowyer wreck, said the incident made him wonder about those in the garage who claimed he "had a death wish" for supposedly racing Johnson too hard in the closing laps of the previous week's race at Texas.
"It's a double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and about how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see [expletive] like that," Keselowski said. "That's [expletive]. That's all you can call that. You race hard and I get called a [jerk] who has a death wish for racing hard, and I see [expletive] like that and it just [ticks] me off.
"It's just ridiculous, and they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."
Eventual race winner Kevin Harvick had a different view, suggesting -- as many fans no doubt will -- that what transpired Sunday was exactly the kind of thing NASCAR needs and was built upon.
* Video:Final Laps | Post-Race Reactions | Press Pass
"The sport was made on fights," Harvick said. "We should have more fights. I like fights. They're not always fun to be in, and sometimes you're on the wrong end. But fights are what made NASCAR what it is."
Race within the race
It was all enough to overshadow the race within Sunday's race, which was the Keselowski vs. Johnson duel. They ran close to each other most of the day until Johnson, running seventh on Lap 236, felt a small vibration in his No. 48 Chevrolet and ended up in the wall before he thought to do anything about it.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the championship duel that seemed as if it was going to go down to the wire under the hot Florida sun appeared to be settled in the 65-degree dry heat of the Arizona desert.
* Video:Cut tire sends Johnson to the garage
It wasn't the way Keselowski wanted it. But then, he might have been a little happier about it had the rest of the race transpired differently.
"Retaliation is out of control in this sport," Keselowski said. "We've got a bunch of drivers that feel like they have to retaliate or they're being challenged as a man, and that's ridiculous. It's not what this sport needs. I don't think it's good for anybody, and somebody's going to get hurt.
"You know, I've said before that we walk a line between [being] chess players and daredevils, and we're not walking it very well. I don't know why that is. I certainly don't blame NASCAR for it. They're not driving the cars."
Could it be that the "boys have at it" mandate handed down by NASCAR three years ago is having an unintended effect on the sport's competitors, who then and subsequently have been encouraged by the governing body mostly to police themselves on the track? Keselowski isn't sure. He is sure he doesn't like getting criticized for racing Johnson hard for a victory one week, then seeing what went down Sunday in Phoenix go on the next.
"It just drives me absolutely crazy that I get lambasted for racing somebody hard without there even being a wreck, and then you see something like this and that's OK, from the same people who criticized me," he said. "It's OK to just take somebody out. But you race somebody hard, put a fender on somebody and try to go for the win, and you're an absolute villain. And that's ridiculous.
"But then we can just go out and retaliate against each other and come back in and smile about it, and it's fine. That's not what this sport needs. It needs hard racing. It needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all on the line, not a bunch of people who have anger issues. That's not good for anybody, and it really hurts my feelings to be a part of a Chase race for the championship and have that jeopardized by people who can't keep control of their emotions."
Perhaps next week, after he goes through the motions to secure his first Cup championship, Keselowski will be able to flash a heartfelt smile. But Sunday, despite taking a commanding points lead that all but guarantees that elusive and important title, he couldn't seem to muster one.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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- Jimmie Johnson
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- Jeff Gordon