NASCAR’s Chase is often filled with tension-laced moments that can spill into ugly post-race confrontations. That has already happened this season, when Kevin Harvick went after Jimmie Johnson two weeks ago at Chicagoland.
And although the folks in NASCAR and track marketing departments might not think so, it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the pressure that comes from the Chase, which enters its second round Saturday with the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Qualifying for the race begins at 7:40 p.m. Thursday.
“I think the incidents where I’m involved – that anyone is involved in – takes away from the great storylines the sport has to tell,” said Brad Keselowski, who is no stranger to those kinds of postrace confrontations.
After the 2014 Charlotte race, Keselowski found himself being chased down in the garage by Matt Kenseth, who was unhappy that Keselowski had rear-ended him on pit-road. Kenseth caught Keselowski between two haulers and placed him in a headlock before being pulled away. Crew members of both teams also got in to a shoving match.
In 2013, Jeff Gordon, Keselowski and Harvick were in the middle of a post-race fight after a Chase race at Texas.
Post-race drama comes from the tense nature of NASCAR’s playoffs.
The Keselowski-Kenseth moment at Charlotte is being featured prominently in a television commercial promoting Saturday’s race.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Keselowski said of the ad. “But they don’t pay me to promote the sport. They make their own decisions.”
Keselowski said what should be highlighted is the competition and excitement that’s on display on the track – not off it.
“It makes me think back to great moments like Dale Earnhardt’s ‘pass in the grass’ (at the 1987 all-star race at Charlotte) and think, ‘We need moments like that,’ ” he said. “That should be what our sport is about. Not a bunch of junk going on post-race.”
The Harvick-Johnson set-to took place after the Chase’s first race, during which Johnson bumped into Harvick, causing a tire to go down on Harvick’s Chevy. A few laps later, Harvick crashed.
It’s pretty stressful during (the Chase). But I think you can just try to relax and enjoy the moment.
Johnson sought out Harvick after the race to apologize, but was met instead by an irate Harvick, who punched Johnson in the chest before being restrained.
Johnson, who was eliminated from the Chase last week at Dover, said he wasn’t surprised Harvick was angry. Harvick hasn’t addressed the incident directly.
The drama comes from the stressful nature of NASCAR’s playoffs. Johnson is testament to that. He was fifth in the standings going to Dover, needing to remain in the top 12 to advance to the second round. All Johnson needed to do was play it safe and he would likely advanced easily.
But he finished 41st and out of the Chase when a rear axle seal broke in his No. 48 Chevy.
“It’s pretty stressful during (the Chase),” said Joey Logano, who advanced to the second round by finishing a safe sixth at Chicagoland, third and New Hampshire and 10th at Dover. “But I think you can just try to relax and enjoy the moment. But there’s a lot on the line and you can over-think and over-analyze things and put yourself in a bad spot from doing that. A lot of times it’s good to just get a little bit of rest and take a little bit of time off to recharge your batteries.”
That’s what Keselowski said he’s trying to do.
“I haven’t reflected on (last year’s incident) at all,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s worth the time or energy to me.”
But there will always be the potential for a post-race flare up. Kenseth was asked about the head lock from 2014 and who might wind up on the receiving end of one the next time.
“Hopefully it’s not me,” he said.
Truex Jr. crew chief on probation
NASCAR placed Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex’s No. 78 Chevy, on probation until Dec. 31 for an inspection violation prior to last week’s race at Dover. Truex’s car was found to have an illegal right rear quarter and had to start the race at the rear of the field. Truex finished finished 11th and advanced to the second round of the Chase.