When the fighting stopped, 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 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.
“I wanted to take the points lead by winning a race and not relying on a failure,” Keselowski said.
It was just the beginning of the drama in the most chaotic race of the year.
One many fans will likely call the best of the season.
Perhaps for all the wrong reasons, and that’s what had Keselowski so upset.
“I’m more just disappointed in the quality of racing that we saw,” he said. “I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and I was ashamed to be a part of it.”
Kevin Harvick snapped a 44-race losing streak by beating Kyle Busch on a pair of late restarts, and crossing the finish line ahead of a melee that broke out because NASCAR failed to throw a final caution flag for an oil spill on the track.
It was the final exclamation point in a sequence that included Jeff Gordon slowing his car on the track to wait for Clint Bowyer so he could intentionally wreck him as retaliation for several weeks of on-track contact between the two.
It led to a full brawl inside the garage between the crews for the two drivers, with Bowyer sprinting from his car to join the fracas. He was held back by NASCAR officials from entering Gordon’s hauler.
“It’s pretty embarrassing,” Bowyer said. “For a four-time champion, and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous.”
Both drivers and their crew chiefs were called to the NASCAR hauler for a meeting with series officials, and police officers stood outside on guard.
Gordon said he’s had problems with Bowyer all season and had reached his limit.
“Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” he said.