When the fighting stopped, and the oil had dried, and the last of the wrecked cars had been towed away, Brad Keselowski found himself on the brink of a first Sprint Cup title for himself and team owner Roger Penske.
Only he wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
He entered Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., trailing five-time champion Jimmie Johnson by seven points and had the better car all day. And moments after Keselowski raced his way into the lead, a blown tire caused Johnson to crash and take his battered car to the garage for repairs.
That helped Keselowski, who finished sixth, take a 20-point lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he’ll clinch the title with a finish of 15th or better.
“I wanted to take the points lead by winning a race and not relying on a failure,” Keselowski said.
Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne finished fourth and moved up to third place in the standings, 30 points behind Johnson for second.
Vancouver, Wash., native Greg Biffle took seventh in the race and is seventh in the standings.
Johnson’s crash was a dramatic and stunning turn in the most chaotic race of the year. Kevin Harvick snapped a 44-race losing streak by beating Kyle Busch on a pair of late restarts.
Harvick, second-place finisher Denny Hamlin and Busch crossed the finish line ahead of a melee of crashing cars, a chain reaction caused in part because NASCAR failed to throw a caution when Danica Patrick was spun and wrecked on the restart.
“There was a lot of stuff on the race track. There was oil all over it. Ray Charles could see that,” Hamlin said.
The carnage was simply the final exclamation point in a sequence triggered by four-time champion Jeff Gordon. He intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, and that led to a full brawl in the garage and a red-flag of nearly 15 minutes to clean up the track.
“The sport was made on fights. We should have more fights. I like fights,” Harvick said after the race. “They’re not always fun to be in, sometimes you’re on the wrong end, but fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”
On what should have been the final lap, Gordon slowed his car to wait for Bowyer so he could intentionally wreck him in retaliation for several weeks of on-track contact between the two.
After Gordon climbed from his car in the garage, he appeared to be jumped from behind by one of Bowyer’s crew members. It led to a full brawl between the crews, with Bowyer sprinting from his car to join the fracas. Bowyer was held back by NASCAR officials from entering Gordon’s hauler.
Both drivers and their crew chiefs were called to a meeting with NASCAR officials.
Gordon said he’s had problems with Bowyer all season.
“Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” he said.
BROWN MAKES HISTORY
Antron Brown became the first black champion in any NHRA pro series when he won the Top Fuel title at the season-ending event in Pomona, Calif. Brown clinched the season championship when teammate Tony Schumacher lost Sunday’s final against Brandon Bernstein.
Jack Beckman edged Ron Capps by two points for the Funny Car championship.