Tempers Flare in Final Race Before the Chase

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

By Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor

If you watched last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, you will remember that hurt feelings and lost tempers clearly defined and ultimately impacted the final rundown. Wrecked racecars and wars of words created some drama and excitement above and beyond what was happening on the racetrack (though there certainly was plenty of drama and excitement there as well).

Now, heading into the 2016 Chase, it looks like there may be more of the same. Though this season has seen its own rivalries and share of hurt feelings, up to this point, it really hasn’t had much impact. As the series heads to Chicagoland Speedway this weekend to start the postseason, those who feel like they have a score to settle could potentially end someone else’s Chase chances.

As you will recall, Matt Kenseth was the poster child for lost tempers last season, intentionally wrecking Joey Logano while Logano was leading a race at Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth was several laps down after getting collected in a wreck with Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski. The incident had boiled over from a race a few weeks prior at Kansas Speedway where Logano had gotten into the back of Kenseth and spun him around in the closing laps of the race. Logano went on to win the race and ultimately missed the Championship 4, mostly as a result of the incident with Kenseth at Martinsville.

Kenseth and Keselowski have also had their share of problems in the past, and once again got into one another last weekend in Richmond in the regular season finale.

During a restart towards the end of the race, Keselowski dove into turn one and slid up into Kenseth’s left side. The contact caused Kenseth’s tire to go down, and he got into the outside wall, forcing the No. 20 out of the race early.

“I don’t think anybody’s perspective will be any different than mine,” Kenseth said in the garage. “It looks like Brad (Keselowski) missed a shift or something and then he just had his angle all wrong and drove into the corner three car lengths too far because he didn’t want to lose his spot and he cleaned me out and knocked the fender down on a tire and we ended up blowing a tire and wrecking.”

“It’s got chaotic but doesn’t really have anything to do with the wreck,” Kenseth continued. “That’s all on Brad (Keselowski) and I’m sure he’ll send a tweet out or go on a TV show and explain how it wasn’t his fault but he knows better than that. He knew his angle was bad and he just drove way off in the corner because he made a mistake and he was trying to make up for it and had no respect for anybody on the outside lane. So, unfortunately, we’ve got a wrecked car because of it. But, we were starting to make our way back toward the front. It’s tough not having enough tires but I thought Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) was doing a good job managing. We had a good car all night, just got behind on that pit road penalty and thought we were in for a top three or four.”

Keselowski, for his part, took responsibility for the contact.

“I just missed a shift and ruined Matt’s day,” he said. “I didn’t hear what he had to say but I am sure it deserved to be said. I made a mistake and it is crappy for everyone. Hopefully he will accept the apology. I don’t want to miss a shift for myself, let along him. I got in the corner and just missed the corner. I was trying to get it in gear and just missed it and got him. It looks like it cut his tire, so apologies to him and his team. It isn’t anything anyone wants to see. As far as the rest of the day is concerned. I thought it was just hard fought Richmond night race with a lot of yellows at the end and hard to keep up with. The 11 and 78 ran a great race, so did Larson at the end. We finished right behind him. I wish I could have cleaned up a few mistakes. We just needed a little more.”

Asked if he expected the contact to carry into the Chase, Keselowski responded, “It is racing. Anything is possible. All I can say is I got into him and it was my fault.”

Kenseth and Keselowski weren’t the only two drivers who had issues with one another during the Richmond race. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman made contact a few times before the two wrecked together on lap 363, collecting Carl Edwards. Newman’s assessment of the incident was that Stewart drove across his nose intentionally, wrecking them both.

“Oh, I’m fine,” said Newman. “I think it was pretty obvious watching the video. I don’t even have to watch it. The No. 14 (Tony Stewart) cut across my nose into Turn 1 and I got into him after that, but he’d already chopped into me and messed up my line and I clipped him a little bit coming off of (Turn) 2; but he just cut across my nose. Going down the back straightaway there, I guess he thought he was in a Sprint Car again; did not know how to control his anger. We’ll keep fighting like we always do. It’s just unfortunate not to end the way we wanted to. The Caterpillar Chevrolet and Grainger and Sprint and everybody else who helps put us on. But, it’s just disappointing that you’ve got somebody old like that, that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous.”

Stewart didn’t disagree with Newman’s assessment of the wreck.

“He’s right,” Stewart said when he was told of Newman’s comments. “I mean, that was the third time he had driven into me during the night. How many times does a guy get a free pass until you’ve had enough of it? He’s got to do his part racing to get in [the Chase]. And if you’re going to run into guys… Ryan and I have been good friends. I don’t do that to him. But he hits me in 1, he hits me coming off Turn 2, and that was the third time by the time. There was one time earlier in the race that nobody saw. Three times? That’s two more time than I normally let somebody run into me.”

Newman actually drove for Stewart’s Sprint Cup Series team – Stewart-Haas Racing – from 2009 to 2013 before moving to his current team of Richard Childress Racing.

What makes the Newman/Stewart incident interesting is that the wreck ultimately sealed Newman’s fate in not making the Chase. Though the odds were against him heading into the regular season finale anyway, the wreck took away any chance for him to make it with a win or on points. Stewart, on the other hand, will be racing for a championship in his final full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. Newman doesn’t have anything to lose while Stewart does.

It’s hard to say whether Newman will take any sort of measures to avenge what happened at Richmond, but at the very least you can’t expect Newman to give Stewart any room in the final 10 races, regardless of the situation Stewart finds himself in.

As far as Keselowski and Kenseth, both drivers are in the Chase, and it’s hard to imagine either one of them risking their own Chase chances for the sake of proving a point. If one of them falls out of Chase contention, perhaps that could be a discussion, but as of right now they both are focused on winning the championship.

Now there certainly are other drivers who have had run-ins this season. Kyle Busch called Keselowski a dirty driver after an XFINITY Series crash in Bristol earlier this season. Busch and teammate Carl Edwards had a run-in on the last lap of the spring race at Richmond earlier this season. Kurt Busch was unhappy with Logano for turning him on the last lap at Daytona in July. None of those seem to have spilled over to anything else this season, but drivers tend to have long memories when it comes down to make or break points of the season.

This Chase certainly seems to bring out the worst in even the calmest of drivers, and these incidents at Richmond will be fresh in everyone’s mind as the Chase begins. Only time will tell how much they will mean in the long run.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *