Brad Keselowski had every right to be angry.
The driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge was expected to be bouncing off the walls at the post-race press conference in Phoenix. With only one race to go, he just had taken over the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead from Jimmie Johnson, who had blown a tire and crashed earlier in the race. Instead, Keselowski fumed about the late-race crash between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, and the fight between the crews that ensued.
His issue wasn’t that he nearly got collected in the crash. It was the criticism he received from many of his fellow drivers the previous week at Texas for rubbing fenders with Johnson. Among his harshest critics was three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart who said that Keselowski had a death wish.
“It’s the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I’m out of control and have a death wish, and then I see stuff like that,” Keselowski said on Sunday. “These guys just tried to kill each other. I get called bad names for racing hard and I have a death wish, and I see stuff like that, and it just pisses me off.”
Keselowski apologized for his post-race rant on Monday, although in my opinion, he didn’t need to.
At a Bristol Motor Speedway appearance back in the spring, Keselowski compared the cliques in the NASCAR garage to those in high school hallways. Although he has 124 career Sprint Cup starts and is close to completing his fourth full season in the series, Keselowski is one of the youngest drivers in the Cup Series.
In many ways, however, he is wise beyond his years. He is one of the best drivers at stepping back and looking at the sport as a whole. He is right that it’s called aggressive racing when drivers like Gordon, Stewart, Bowyer and a few others play bumper cars. Remember how Stewart and Matt Kenseth were praised for racing hard after their wreck at Bristol.
After Stewart bounced his helmet off the hood of Kenseth’s car, many laughed and dismissed it as Tony simply being Tony. Many gave Bowyer the same courtesy after he sprinted to Gordon’s hauler, looking like he was ready for a fight.
I understand Keselowski’s frustrations when it appears he’s being singled out for racing too hard. It took two to tango at Texas and Johnson certainly didn’t cut Keselowski any slack on the race’s final restart. He pinched Keselowski down on the bottom of the track, and if Keselowski truly had chosen to race dirty, he could have driven into the first turn wide-open and slammed into the side of Johnson’s car.
Keselowski’s actions hardly compare to Gordon’s this past Sunday. While Gordon certainly had every right to be angry with Bowyer pushing him to the outside wall, Gordon crossed the line by slowing down and deliberately wrecking Bowyer in a crash which also collected Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.
NASCAR imposed a $100,000 fine and a 25-point penalty on Gordon, although many felt the sanctioning body should have taken it a step further and suspended Gordon for the season finale.
Keselowski didn’t get into the issue of penalties after the race. He focused more on the Cup Series drivers as a whole giving no quarter.
“I’ve said before we walk a line between chess players and daredevils, and we’re not walking it very well,” he said. “I don’t know why that is. I certainly don’t blame NASCAR for that. They’re not driving the cars.”
He does take exception to the criticism from his fellow drivers, especially, when he sees someone like Gordon escape condemnation for using his car as a battering ram.
“It just drives me absolutely crazy that I get lambasted for racing somebody hard without there even being a wreck and then you see stuff like this, and that’s okay, from the same people that criticized me,” Keselowski said. “It’s okay 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. That’s ridiculous.”