NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Brawl That Brings Brian’s Chase To A Crossroads

“Did you see the Texas fight? In NASCAR?”

Amongst coffee stops, or milling about on the train, or in offices Monday morning, millions of people in America will take a break, get bored at work and start asking that question. Some of them will be lifelong NASCAR fans, still absorbing the ramifications of a bar-like brawl that involved everyone from the 43-year-old father of two Jeff Gordon, to a guy from Kasey Kahne’s crew who jumped in to throw roundhouse punches simply just because. It was a most unlikely scenario, erupting moments after the checkered flag that rapidly turned pit road into a three-ring circus, equipped with trendy YouTube clips and drama that threatens to explode, not erode in the heat of the desert at Phoenix Sunday.

2014 Texas II CUP pack racing CIA
The calm before the nuttiness (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

But such people, while armed with strong opinions, would be talking about NASCAR no matter what. Without the final 60 laps, a series of events which turned Texas from tedious to thrilling, their central focus would be on a horrible playoff format, another ho-hum win by Jimmie Johnson and who might squeak into the sport’s first Final Four. No, their excitement over Sunday, while flooding this website Monday morning is, for once, also less relevant to its future. Instead, it’s the vast majority of people who will ask that question not knowing the track length of Texas Motor Speedway, what a double-file restart is, or even if stock cars always turn left. Heck, they may know nothing more about Brad Keselowski, before seeing that fight clip, other than he was “the cool guy that drank beer” on SportsCenter after winning the NASCAR championship a few years back.

Here’s what they do know: There’s a crazy video clip, replayed everywhere from CNN to someone’s local schmocal blog, showing people got mad at each other, they fought like a motorsports flash mob and for a few seconds, the NFL played second fiddle. It’s how many of them pay attention, after watching that and how strongly they react to this Keselowski-Matt KensethGordon-Kevin Harvick feud that could very well determine the future of the sport’s new format.

Whether it’s a watershed moment won’t be known until after the checkered flag flies at Homestead in two weeks. For now, it serves as the perfect distraction, covering up a Texas race that was, for its first 250 circuits, nothing to write home about to mom. You had six caution flags, almost all of them for debris that was a convenient excuse to keep the field from getting too spread out.  Johnson, in cruise control out front, led a parade of Chasers stuck in place behind him by NASCAR’s dreaded “aero push.” When Keselowski, struggling most of the day, darted out in front on pit strategy, taking the lead with a 10th-place car on lap 253, he became the poster child for NASCAR’s most boring buzz words: track position.

But the new kids in town, trying to figure out how Gordon was trying to punch a man 13 years his junior, know nothing about three hours of boring competition. Every bad debris caution, pullover pass and moment of single-file highway driving got buried by two green-white-checkered finishes, both of which caused the type of rough, on-track contact that led quickly to fisticuffs. Keselowski’s side-scrape of Gordon, blowing his tire and potentially an ability to move on in his quest for a fifth championship, is the movie climax that makes the ADD generation pay attention. Three hours of “eh” can be forgiven these days for three minutes of unquestioned excellence, especially when looking to hook potential new fans.

Everyone’s focus, now will center on the actions of Keselowski, whose contact and aggressive driving ticked off Gordon, then Harvick during a second green-white-checkered finish where both men made contact battling for second. Both cases reminded longtime fans of the way Dale Earnhardt, Sr. raced, where manners took a back seat to manhandling people with a checkered flag on the line. It was that style of racing, causing strong opinions inside the garage area that led to a “good vs. evil” style of growth, one which spurred both rivalries and ratings. You were either for or against Earnhardt, with no in between in the same way this incident, along with Martinsville last week are cementing feelings toward Keselowski. The list of drivers on the “hater list,” like during Earnhardt’s rise to prominence in the 1980s, now includes some of the biggest names inside the sport: Gordon, Harvick, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. While Hamlin wasn’t involved this time, you could see television shots of him watching in the garage, intrigued as others jumped on board the hater train.

2014 Texas II CUP Brad Keselowski postrace lip CIA
Brad Keselowski (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Keselowski critics will say there can’t be a second coming of NASCAR’s “Intimidator,” not when the driver commands such little respect inside the garage. But at the same time, it seems the veterans demanding such respect comes at a price. Gordon, who chose to restart on the outside seems to think Keselowski should have stayed directly behind him, giving him room instead of going “risky” and making a three-wide hole that could have caused contact and cut down a tire (spoiler: it did. But that wasn’t guaranteed.) Harvick, knowing the “win or miss out” mode both drivers are in when it comes to Homestead wanted Keselowski to back down, giving room so the No. 4 could have blown by in the final two laps and challenge Johnson for the victory. God forbid they fought amongst themselves, as any local short track racers would have instead of Keselowski waving the white flag of surrender.

Surely, there are two sides to this story and Keselowski deserves his share of criticism. But no one, on any side is 100 percent in the right anymore, which makes the intensity of the rivalry so entertaining. When’s the last time you saw Gordon so worked up, letting frustration boil over in the eyes of NASCAR Nation? There have been flashes, like with Jeff Burton at Texas a few years ago and even a shoving incident with Matt Kenseth at Bristol back in 2006. But Gordon, to be honest, hasn’t been that consistently angry with someone since the early days of racing… who else? Dale Sr. Owner Rick Hendrick, virtually unchallenged in the sport over the last decade, hasn’t had someone dead set on destroying every member of every one of his teams – and having the financial and ownership backing to do it – since Richard Childress had the resources in the 1990s. No doubt, it’s the type of actual competition that could keep this sport going for several years to come.

Now, the question is whether the attention Keselowski earned, through that brawl along with NASCAR, is enough to bury all the problems. The race was super long Sunday, filled with debris cautions and a glutton of rich teams dominating the proceedings. Those close to the Chase call it exciting, experts so enthralled with the quality moments they miss the reality of declining ratings and attendance during every race. The format, at one point in Texas, was in position to send Gordon and three drivers with their share of problems to Homestead: a winless Kenseth, a driver in Ryan Newman who has fewer top 5s than half the Chasers have victories and someone who hasn’t even competed in every race this season (Hamlin). One big brawl doesn’t fix the strong contingent of protesters hoping a driver who isn’t deserving, who’s had a terrible season compared to Logano or Gordon or even a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. takes the title and turns NASCAR’s Chase into a farce.

Or does any of that even matter? This sport, for all its changes as of late, is stressing short-term pain for long-term gain. NASCAR CEO Brian France had that in mind when he created this playoff, a far-fetched idea he had to sell to the highest level of skeptical executives, then endure a season of criticism while staking a decade’s worth of gambling on its long-term success. The 18-to-34 generation is what he’s looking for, a brand new group of fans that can keep the sport going while hoping the older crowd sticks around during the transition. And while new rules help, personalities matter more; an ADD generation needs a moment of brilliance to, well, ADD about in Twitter posts and water cooler talk before sticking around to check out more.

That moment, you’d have to think is now reality. Can momentum follow?

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

30 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
kb

Sadly without calling out the obvious BS in the “fight” today, this is what NASCAR wants. It is still smoke and mirrors for a product and structure of points that has been getting worse and worse over the years..deflect so nobody looks too hard or behind the curtain. I am amazed that Brian was able to sell this junk to people saying wins count for something. In reality it is how you fair in 3 race increments. I do hope that the one’s that have been most consistent (I do mean the ones who survived, consistency for the year is out of the question) are one of the 4 at Homestead. Sorry, not a fan of Hamlin’s and one could take my comment in the wrong way..but how in God’s name should one look at Denny tied at this time for the points lead… a fair or a accurate representation of HIS season? What has he really done all year?? Something I will never understand.

rg72

Denny Hamlin would be 17th in the standings based on pre-three ring circus standings. Even if he earned max points for the race he missed, he would at best be 12th. And now he is tied with 2 to go?
Any thoughts whether Jeff is fined for the post-race interview? After all, Dale Jr. was fined ten years ago after winning at ‘Dega. Maybe there is a distinction with that race being on network TV and yesterday’s race being on cable.
Tom, regardless of who wins, this Chase is a farce. Whether a winless driver or Hamlin takes it will just be an indicator to what degree it is a farce. The only thing this Chase has done is take a bad concept (the Chase) and make it worse with each evolution.

Bill B

If what NASCAR wants is the Jerry Springer show at the end of every race, if that’s the goal they seek for viewership, then I AM OUT.
This isn’t something that NASCAR should be celebrating, it’s something they should be ashamed of.

John C.

It’s definitely orchestrated. The cautions for Logano and Bowyer were completely unnecessary. Both could have drove away with no debris left behind. This is exactly what NASCAR wants.

john

I agree, especially with the Bowyer incident. Another “wreck” by Bowyer went gordon is leading? hmm. And of course a caution to bring everyone together and cause a wreck at the end. It’s typical Nascar fashion now. It has become such a manipulated thing and yet they don’t seem to realize that all these attempts to create excitement just drive people away.

Just once I’d love to hear a guy retire from nascar and then put out a book or go do commentary on how corrupt and manipulated the stuff was. Sort of like Jose Canseco came out about all the steroids used in MLB. These days all the commentators treat Nascar like a god, especially the Waltrips.

Guest

NASCAR reaps what it sows. The results will be fines for Gordon and Harvick, nothing for Brad since he was walking away before being pushed back into the melee, and no points lost for anyone.

I know NASCAR wanted to make headlines and the races interesting, but not in this way. They will make the headlines on the sports pages, but not for the race, not for the Chase, and not for JJ’s win. In the off season the big wigs will have to look at themselves and the monster they created and realize it is not what is best for the sport. Unless they turn the finale from a race to a steel cage handicap match of Brad K. Vs the world.

Dennis

Good racing should be why people want to tune in. NASCAR through it’s many blunders over the past 20 years has turned the elite stock car racing series into a generic, spec series, aeropush mess. So, they decide that since the racing sucks, they have to concentrate in other areas such as promoting the drivers’ personalities and, in some instances, creating personas for them a la WWE. I’m sure they are pleased that the newest version of the Chase has produced a demolition derby but what we are now missing are true racing battles where the guys run on the edge without intentionally body slamming each other. To me, the thrill is watching a guy take a car to its limits and driving around another. Instead, the aeropush is so bad that NASCAR has to throw fake debris cautions constantly just to give us a couple of laps of side by side until they get into single line and get stuck in air turbulence.

Newer fans don’t know any better. Whether they will stick around for the long term is an open question. Meanwhile, ratings continue downward.

jerseygirl

Dennis, I agree with your comments and with budsudz, it should be about the racing, not about the here now gone soon fan. We saw the uptick in 2001 after the tragedy at Daytona and that lasted for a while because the racing was good. Then BZF got into control and started changing every single blessed thing about the sport – car, venues, rules, adding a “playoff” into the mix and the new fans were already on their way out because the next big thing – whatever that was – called to them and the diehard fans who had always supported NASCAR were told that they were important any more in so many ways.

Yes, I get why Kez made the move he did, yes, it was risky and I understand that it is all about racing and if not for the crapshoot chase, Gordon wouldn’t have been as angry about it – it would have been just a racing deal. However, the added pressure to make it to Homestead so we can have a crash fest filled fun time to decide who gets the big check and the ugly trophy, well, that understandably made him mad.

Tom, you are right about the majority of the race being a bore. If not for the craziness (a result of another of BZF’s bright ideas), no one would be talking about this race at all. NASCAR must be thrilled to pieces, they will get lots of air time and I’m sure that people will buy tickets for the next 2 races – just to see what happens next.

Then we have Harvick, who decided to appoint himself the instigator of the situation on pit road. I’m sure that Gordon would have yelled at Kez and then probably walked away, but when Harvick pushed Kez into him, I would imagine that Gordon figured Kez was getting physical. And of course, it was on from there.

John Q, I hear you, the person that I am most annoyed at in all of this is myself. I wish I didn’t care if Gordon wins another championship, but I do and that plays completely into NASCAR’s hands because I can’t turn away – even though I am not enjoying all of this.

There is a difference in deciding a championship because it is reasonable and fair and just turning it into total chaos and having it rely almost completely on luck.

Budsudz

Targeting and Hooking an “ADD” Generation is only a temporary thing. Until the next “shiny object” grabs their attention. Haven’t we already learned this by looking at the emptying of the stands due to the long term results of BK’s reign?

Also, as the Chase often does, JJ’s win was merely an afterthought. In the Classic Cup days, this only happened at the final race, when the focus was on the Coronation of the Champion

JohnQ

I agree with EVERY point made by the posters below. We get this silly mess because for whatever reason this is what NASCAR wants. The person I am most annoyed with is me. I keep wondering why do I still watch. Maybe it is time to admit that the NASCAR I enjoyed is gone and it is not coming back.

rascalmanny

The Chase is like having 3 NFL teams in the Super Bowl and only two are there to win. But that 3rd team is still going after the ball.

Nascar is such a joke now.

GinaV24

I agree with all of the poster’s comments below. Since I am a highly agitated Gordon fan right now, I won’t make any other comment.

mike

Kez is no saint but let’s look at Jeff Gordons accomplishments in the being hated category. He’s pissed off Dale Sr, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, joey Logano in his attempt to kill Clint Bowyer, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, at martinsville years back. Keselowski, he was a whiny little baby at Richmond last year ( Talk about Denny not being good enough to be in the chase this year… That was gorgon last year). He has been a major a-hole in this series as long as I can remember. As for Harvick… Glad to see his wife let him borrow her penis Sunday

Bill B

Look in the mirror and say “aah” and you might see it again.

mike

looked saw you on your knees Bill

Bill B

That’s a very interesting retort Mike.
Tell me about your childhood.

Old School

The end of that boring parade looked like how the racers that I grew up admiring raced one another, including a young and hungry Jeff Gordon. I didn’t like Jeff much because he beat my favorite drivers with superb driving ability just like how Brad did it. Whenever there is a changing of the guard, peoples feathers get ruffled. I’m really over the fights afterward though. Probably most of the older fans are sick of it, even as it draws Nascar’s 15 seconds of the ADD crowd back to the sport, they will leave at the next race areo parade just as fast as they joined in.

JohnQ

Amen, millionaire Sammy calls millionaire Tommy a poop face and then they have a slap fight right there in the Country Club parking lot until their wives drag them away. Pouty, petulant, entitled sissies. Can any of us workaday folks relate to today’s drivers on any level whatsoever.

Earner

I’d Have to sat Dennis has it right as I see it..The problem is with the product on the track & I still believe if you fix that you fix the rest..Aero push & downforce dependance//Tires that don’t wear & the dull D’s (which now are NOT sold out) 1.5’s that create the steady parade…Heard JJ say last week people want to see crash’s ..I Think he’s totally wrong ..People want to see actual Racing & side by side Passing some where other than a restart & in the pits (go watch F-1 which seems to have more passing these days then nascar at a 1.5 track..Earner

Mathan

It’s a pity that all those, on a weekly basis, that claim they are going to tap out because of some latest change, incident, comment never follow through. As dumb as the Chase was in its implimentation and follow on modifications, it’s here and no amount of screaming in the echo chamber with like minded souls seems to be able to change it. So like many things in life, either adapt or move on. Pining for the 80’s and 90’s won’t bring back the 80’s and 90’s. A for the litany of WWE refs, have the long time fans truly forgotten the shenanigans of Wallace, Rudd, Sr, Spencer and the Allisons to name a few? For all of the chatter about the farce of the post race donnybrookes we always here of what occured in the garage or behind the hauler – essentially the same thing but away from the very very few previous prying cameras. Having watched the F1 parade until my eyes glazed over and NASCAR, I’ll take NASCAR everyday and be happy with it.

Tim S.

Man, if NASCAR ever finds about 20 million more of this guy to join hands and sing Kumbaya, we’re all screwed.

Mathan

Unlikely, because you’ll have long since left the whinefest and moved on to…cricket?

Face it, like it or not it changed and the daily gripes aren’t changing it back. Embrace it or move on with the divorce papers.

Steve

It appears that most have moved on. Remember when 100,000 fans in the seats every weekend was the norm. Now its maybe one or two races a year. Be careful what you wish for.

Mathan

That’s a part of life. Just like fans moving on after a baseball strike, or a hockey stike, or a basketball strike. Or when there are rule changes that they don’t like, teams get moved You either embrace it, move on, or haunt social media sites and do neither but complain.

Don in Ct

God, it’s becoming more and more farcical with every passing week. I only hope that two more non chase drivers win the final events and Newman wins the title. That ought to get “Brain” chewing on a rug.

djrichiep

My sentimental favorite in all this mess is Kenseth. Wasn’t it his title that spawned this farce? I’d like to see that stick poked in NASCARs eye.

SR37212

Brian wants the 18-34 millenniums yet ratings are dropping and the overnights for Texas are another drop in TV ratings. More important to NASCAR is that week after week the top cities in the Ratings are almost all in the South. Not only isn’t he getting the 18-34’s but he’s losing the base that have kept even dropping ratings from falling into an abyss.

DoninAjax

No matter what Brian tries, a driver still won’t need wins to win the title.

I’m kind of leaning to Newman now as long as he wins without winning a race.

Earner

If Newman & Kenseth can get to Homestead (still wrong to best finish in this race wins it all) (but do think this “system” has been mostly exciting) it will have proved the point …That said the chase is not going away, its been here a long time & Nascar isn’t going to drop it (not without a france overthrow lol) but they Must quit changes every year! (please change last race rule first) It has an appearance that they might not know (or aren’t sure) of what their doing. The Major corporations including most “sports leagues” don’t make a lot of “product” decisions public until They Know. If the “System” is ever going to get to Over all general Acceptance & Credibility , it can not be changed every year (for 10 years non stop) …That said It’s made an exciting season end..Go Newman

RussThe

Nascar may have gotten what it wanted, or not. The Texas fracas while it may appeal to the older fans won’t cause the millennialsto look up from their Iphones.
Worse from the Nascar perspective would be if it makes the politically correct sponsors question their participation.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch