Once the dust had settled on Sunday's AAA Texas 500 and its aftermath on pit lane, Brad Keselowski faced the media sporting a cut on his cheek, a thick lip and blood in his mouth after being on the receiving end of a punch during a huge mêlée that had broken out at the Penske pit stall.
Just as he had been last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he tangled with Matt Kenseth, Keselowski had once again been right in the eye of the storm. He had been battling with Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon for the race win - and an automatic guarantee of a place in the four-driver season finale line-up that will decide this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup championship - when the two had made contact. Gordon spun out and ended up in 29th, while Keselowski was ultimately denied victory by Gordon's team mate Jimmie Johnson.
"Yeah, the #2 just bulldozed the #24," was the succinct verdict of Kevin Harvick, who had enjoyed a perfect view from behind the inciting incident. "The #24 wrecked. The #48 and the #2 were racing hard. At that point there was just no rules so you just stood on the gas and hoped for the best," he added, after also managing to pip Keselowski to the line in the final seconds.
Gordon was livid about having his race wrecked, and pledged over the team radio that he was going to beat the [expletive] out of Keselowski after the race.
"It's his disregard for what's going on out there," Gordon fumed, his own lip cut and his face looking raw and bruised after the altercation. "I don't know how he's ever won a championship, and I'm just sick and tired of it. That's why everyone is fighting him.
"You can't have a conversation with him. He gets himself in this position, and he has to pay the consequences. I'm going to race him the same way he races me. That kind of stuff is just uncalled for and I'm not going to stand for it."
"He made an over-aggressive move. Those are moves you find if you've got a slamming, banging race. He cut my left rear tyre, that was it for me. It's a real shame," he added. "It's just uncalled for. I had to show my displeasure. It got ugly down there, obviously
"A lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of weeks," Gordon predicted. "It's emotion that is a part of this Chase and this format as well as towards people that make dumb decisions. He has been making a lot of them lately. That is why people have been running after him and chasing him down. It's why his team has got to defend him over there because of what he does on the race track."
From his point of view, Keselowski felt he'd made a completely legitimate racing move: "There was a hole and I went for it. It closed up and we bounced off each other and kept going. It was just a battle for the win.
"My expectation is if there's a gap, they'll go for it. If there's a gap, I'll go for it. If it closes up, there's contact, then that's racing. And that's what happened today," he insisted. "Intentional wrecking and whatnot, no, I don't support that. I never have. I make it a point to try not to do it [but] I'm not always innocent of not doing it.
"Will those guys race me hard or harder than others? Absolutely, I'm certain they will," Keselowski said when asked if he expected retaliation from the other drivers after Texas and Charlotte. "But that's just part of it. I can't fault them for that. I just feel like I have to go for the gap if it's there and I have to race the way I race or I won't even be in NASCAR. I'd rather have enemies in NASCAR than have friends and be sitting at home.
"What I'm not going to do is back down. I'm not going to get in the spot where I was in 2013, where I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be, because what they want me to be is a loser, and I'm not here to lose. I'm here to win.
"I think last year I got away from being as aggressive as I was in 2012 and this year. I didn't make the Chase, we won one race - that's not acceptable to me," he insisted. "I'm here to win races for Roger Penske and for my team. That means when there's a gap, I have to take it; if it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that's okay. It's not anything I don't expect on the other side. Plenty of times where I got rubbed - it will go both ways, that's okay by me.
"I'm not trying to dish something out I couldn't take," he continued defiantly. "The way I raced today is what I would define as great racing that defined this sport and I hope it will continue to define it for years to come. If a guy like me caves, whether it's Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, list out the drivers that I've had run‑ins with, whenever they try to push back on me, if I cave, that will end that run in this sport, and that will be a shame. That would be a shame for everybody, it would be a shame for the history of this sport, it would be a shame for the fans that come here to see us race 100 percent. That's what I did today. For that I'm not going to be ashamed."
When Gordon arrived in the crowded Penske pit stall, Keselowski initially backed away - that is, until Kevin Harvick arrived on the scene and shoved him from behind toward Gordon, and it was this that ended up sparking a massive brawl between the Penske and Hendrick camps.
"I just told Brad he needed to get in there and fight his own fight," shrugged Harvick, who kept out of the ensuing battle himself. "If you're going to race like that, you're going to have to man up at some point. I mean, he's done it several times. Can't just turn around and let everybody fight all the time without you in there. Have to stand up for your actions at some point yourself."
"Kevin likes everybody to fight for some reason," Keselowski responded. "I came here to race, not to fight. I raced as hard as I could and these guys just didn't like it."
There's plenty of video footage of the brawl from numerous sources, but it's still not clear what exactly happened or who did what to who and when. NASCAR will pour over the evidence in the next couple of days to determine if any penalties should be applied - Keselowski is already on probation for tangling with Kenseth last month - but the early feeling is that unless proof emerges of someone actually swinging and landing a punch then it will be difficult for NASCAR to act.
"Everybody gets together, and when you're holding on to each other and grabbing and this, that and the other, it's one thing," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition and racing development. "When punches are landed, that's a different scenario."
One crew member seemingly from the Hendrick crew is shown swinging at Keselowski, who then falls to the ground, but Gordon himself is lost among the crowd.
"I couldn't even tell you what happened," admitted Keselowski himself. "Just a mêlée of people. I couldn't tell you what happened after the race. That's why there are cameras."
Race winner Jimmie Johnson was similarly in the dark: "I saw a little bit on the big screen going down the back straightaway. I would definitely have to go to the tape and watch and see what happened there."
But Johnson did add that in his view the rise in the number of post-race altercations this year was down to the new high-pressure elimination-format for the Chase.
"The system is breeding this, it was by design. I think [NASCAR CEO] Brian France sat back and looked long and hard at this and was hopeful that these moments would happen," he said. "It's changing the way things take place on the track. When I think back to when I started, we'd point people by, let them go. There was this gentleman agreement on the racetrack. Everybody told you to study Mark Martin, watch how he lets people go. That hasn't happened in years. We'll cut each other's throat any chance we get. It's just trending that way.
"From a diehard fan standpoint, I don't believe that's what fans want to see," he added. "But I'm confident that tomorrow we'll be on the front cover of every paper, and we're trending on all the social stuff [so] I don't know what the right answer is."
Johnson certainly wasn't sounding like he was going to hold anything against Keselowski for his collision with Gordon. "I feel like on track he does a good job. I think he gets himself in more trouble off the track with things that he says personally. We'll see how things proceed from here and how he handles all that."
And Harvick took a similar view. "I think he's just racing as hard as he can for his team. He's trying to get all he can. But when it gets down to that type of racing, those things are going to happen exactly like they happened after the race. But I don't think there's anything wrong with it as long as you're ready to roll."
Meanwhile Keselowski certainly sounds determined to keep on rolling in very much the same vein for the remainder of the season.
"With a 10th to 15th place car, we almost won. That happened because of that attitude and that fight. That's going to make some people mad because they don't race that way, I understand that," he said. "I'll be back next week, and they'll have to face it."
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