Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive Texas fall race Sunday, when none of the eight championship contenders were able to clinch one of the final four spots in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson emerged from a frantic finish, the second attempt at an overtime two-lap sprint to the finish after his teammate and Chase contender Jeff Gordon spun out from the front after contact with Brad Keselowski.
While Johnson celebrated his fourth victory at Texas and 70th Sprint Cup win overall, fireworks exploded in the sky — and on pit road.
An irate Gordon stopped his car right by Keselowski and confronted him. There were plenty of punches thrown in the melee, with NASCAR officials in the middle of crew members and others around the Keselowski’s No. 2 car.
Gordon was leading on a restart on Lap 335, one more than the race’s scheduled length, when he took the outside lane. When Gordon drifted up a bit, Keselowski pushed through the gap, and made contact that left Gordon’s car with a cut tire.
“We were just racing for the win. I didn’t wreck him, and just raced him hard. He left a hole. Everything you watch in racing, you leave a hole, you’re supposed to go for it,” said Keselowski, who appeared to be spitting blood after the postrace brawl. “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day. I wanted to win the race and that was the opportunity. It just didn’t come together.”
Gordon said he was on older tires when “out of nowhere I got slammed by the two.” He then used an expletive in referring to Keselowski, who finished third.
“The way he races, I don’t know how he ever won a championship. This is why everyone is fighting with him,” Gordon said. “There wasn’t any conversation. You can’t have a conversation with him. There’s big consequences. To me, it’s just a bunch of crap. The kid is just doing stuff way over his head.”
Gordon spun out, lost a lap in the pits, and finished 29th.
It was the second time in the last four races that a driver confronted Keselowski after the checkered flag.
Johnson, who beat Chase contender Kevin Harvick by half a second, described Texas as intense and said he was sure it was “highly entertaining.” He said he couldn’t wait to go back and watch the tape.
Harvick appeared to shove Keselowski into the fray, and crew members started throwing punches.
“If you’re going to race like that, you’re going to have to man up at some point,” Harvick said. “I didn’t get in the middle of anything. I just turned him around and told him to go fight his own fight.”
Johnson, the six-time Cup champion who was eliminated after the second round in the new Chase format, led 191 of the 341 laps.
The next highest-finishing Chase contenders at Texas were Carl Edwards in ninth and Denny Hamlin 10th.
Texas was the second consecutive Chase race won by a driver already eliminated from title contention. That means at least three drivers will advance on points to get into the final four in the season finale at Homestead in two weeks.
The third round of the Chase wraps up next Sunday in Phoenix, where Harvick won eight months ago in the second race of the season. Matt Kenseth and Hamlin were the only of the eight Chase contenders to finish outside the top eight in that race.
Joey Logano finished 12th at Texas, but is listed first in points while having the same number as Hamlin and two more than Ryan Newman. Gordon is fourth, a point ahead of Kenseth and Carl Edwards, followed by Keselowski and Harvick, though there is only an 18-point gap between first and eighth place.
Kyle Busch finished fourth, though he never really threatened in his bid to complete his second career NASCAR weekend trifecta. Busch slipped early in the field, and was able to move up only during a late series of cautions.
Busch won the Nationwide Series race at the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile track Saturday after starting the weekend with a victory in the Camping World Truck Series race Friday night. He started ninth in the Cup race.