Review by Jacob Black, photo courtesy NASCAR
Well, that escalated quickly.
Formula 1 took on NASCAR toe to toe, head to head on Sunday and while the F1 circus won the war of bums on seats, it’s NASCAR who owns the post-race media reels.
Another WWE-style brawl left NASCAR fans and pundits with plenty of fodder, and heightened excitement heading into the final two races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It also left Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon with bruises to more than just their egos.
The brawl sealed off months of angst for Texas Motor Speedway owner Eddie Gossage, who was furious when the Texas Formula 1 race at Circuit of the Americas was scheduled for the same weekend as his NASCAR race at TMS. The ever-blustering Gossage was quick to slam the “arrogance” of F1 and claim that nobody would attend that race, choosing his event instead. The empty stands and thinned-out RV lots evident in wide shots of the 1.5 mile oval would prove him wrong.
A large crowd was on hand at Austin to watch Lewis Hamilton extend his lead over Nico Rosberg in a race that was lightly peppered with excitement. There were some stunning on-track battles and passes, including Hamilton’s race-winning overtake of his teammate. After a woeful start Daniel Ricciardo once again demonstrated his incredible wheel-to-wheel skills with some early passes before earning the final step on the podium by passing the Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas during pit stops.
The mid-pack fight between Sauber, Force India and Lotus saw drivers from all three teams collide on more than one occasion, including one on the opening lap that saw Force India’s Sergio Perez and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil out on the spot.
Funnily enough, none of those drivers resorted to pushing, shoving, or fisticuffs.
A couple hundred miles down the road in Fort Worth, things were a little more hectic. After a lacklustre opening 300 laps the AAA Texas 500 heated up in the dying stages. After Kasey Kahne spun out with just a handful of laps remaining, Jeff Gordon lined up at the front of the field ahead of Jimmie Johnson and fellow Chase contender Brad Keselowski for the first attempt at a Green-White-Chequered finished.
Keselowski got a run, Gordon tried to close the gap, Keselowski hit Gordon and cut a tire. Gordon went to the pits under caution, where his team opted to change the tires on the undamaged side of the car first, causing him to lose a lap and drop out of contention.
The race was ultimately won by Jimmie Johnson from Harvick and Keselowski, and everyone trundled off to pit lane for a good bit of chest beating and sabre rattling. Keselowski was protected by his crew members and clearly trying to back out of the impending fight when Harvick walked up from behind and shoved him into the clutches of Jeff Gordon. The crews for both drivers then piled in, throwing wild punches before NASCAR officials separated them.
Both drivers were left with minor grazes on their lips, though Keselowski hammed it up for the camera by washing his mouth out with red Gatorade. Marcos Ambrose did more damage with one punch in August than the combined 30 or 40 thrown on Sunday.
Drivers have expressed plenty of frustration with the No. 2 driver in recent weeks, with Matt Kenseth going so far as to jump him between the NASCAR trailers to put him in a headlock and give him a noogie. Cameras were of course on hand.
After Sunday’s fracas Gordon labelled Keselowski a “dips**t” and said he wonders how the 2012 champion ever claimed a title. Keselowski said he went for the gap, and Harvick said he pushed Keselowski into the fight because the driver was letting his team do the fighting for him.
Given that no actual punches had yet been thrown, Harvick’s explanation for his contribution rang hollow.
Fact is, this sort of thing will have some fans salivating over the potential soap opera of next week’s final race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase. Of the eight drivers currently in the hunt the top four will move forward after the race in Phoenix to a one-off race at Homestead.
This fight will be talked about a lot over the next few weeks – but I’d bet good money the racing won’t be.