It’s safe to say Brad Keselowski isn’t the most popular guy this week among his fellow Sprint Cup drivers.
It was one thing that Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, drivers who had their Talladega Sunday ruined by Keselowski’s aggressive driving, would take him to task after the Aaron’s 499.
But then race winner Denny Hamlin added his voice to many, asking what Keselowski was doing driving so hard. This was two-thirds of the way through the race when Keselowski got loose, drifting into the wall. Thirteen other cars were damaged in that crash, effectively ending some Chase contenders’ chances for the day.
“You know, there’s not typically a rule or anything about it. Anyone can do anything they want,” Hamlin said. “But typically if guys are racing you really hard that are multiple, multiple laps down, you kind of wonder why.”
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Then Hamlin offered an alternative strategy:
“If I were multiple laps down at a superspeedway, I’d probably just hang out behind the pack and hope to not get into a wreck. That would be the only way I could improve my position at the end of the day – hope that the big pack gets in a wreck and guys are taken out and then I can move up in the standings that way.”
Keselowski saw it otherwise. While he apologized for the damage to other cars, he didn’t see his aggressive approach as inherently wrong just because he was laps down deep into a race.
“Certainly I wanted to get my laps back and have a shot to win at the end and the only way I was going to do that was by being really aggressive at the front half of the field,” he said.
Keselowski later added, “Yeah, we had a lot of close calls and I guess most of them were my fault, but I’m just being real aggressive.”
Clint Bowyer, who finished third at Talladega, questioned the “common sense” of Keselowski’s approach. Kenseth used the term “mind-blowing,” harkening back to why Keselowski was laps down in the first place: His aggressive attempt less than 15 laps into Sunday’s race to pass then-race leader Danica Patrick.
Keselowski hadn’t quite cleared Patrick’s Chevrolet, and got sideways toward the infield. He managed to right himself enough to get back on the track, but was tapped again, causing a flat tire and other damage.
“He came down across the front of Danica’s car early and spun in front of the field and thankfully didn’t collect any cars. (The second time) we weren’t so lucky,” Kenseth said. “He was driving really, really, really aggressively to try to get back up there. I didn’t realize he was that many laps down, so I’m not sure what the strategy was.”
Kenseth was asked if he was bitter about the situation.
“I will say one thing,” Kenseth added, “if it was the other way around and it was anybody else except him, we’d all be getting lectured.”
Keselowski has already won a Sprint Cup race so he’s virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase under the new scoring system. So his urgency to get back into contention Sunday, and the damage it caused, rubbed his peers wrong.
“I had seen him for several laps driving over his head,” Gordon said. “I knew he was laps down, but he wasn’t doing anybody any favors, not himself (either).”
Fans chimed in via Twitter post-race, and Keselowski sounded more contrite on his account. When one fan told him he would catch a lot of flak, Keselowski replied, “Deservedly so.”
Then a fan tweeted Keselowski would be “losing his mind” had he been wrecked by another driver six laps down.
“Can’t deny that,” Keselowski replied.