Told of Texas Motor Speedway using billboards of his post-race brawl with Jeff Gordon from November to promote Saturday’s Duck Commander 500, Brad Keselowski wryly grinned and shook his head.
“I’m sure they are,” he said.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course. Why wouldn’t TMS capitalize on the moment as much as possible?
A brief refresher: With nine laps remaining, all signs pointed to Gordon cruising to Victory Lane and securing one of four berths in the Chase’s new championship round. In an aggressive, borderline reckless move, Keselowski tried to squeeze by Gordon and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski cut Gordon’s left rear tire in the process, ruining his day and championship hopes.
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Gordon confronted Keselowski after the race and a brawl erupted between both teams, courtesy of Kevin Harvick shoving Keselowski into the middle of the fray.
Gordon, one of the most respected drivers in the sport, wanted to see some remorse from Keselowski, but didn’t. And Keselowski, to this day, does not feel he did anything wrong.
“What do I remember about Texas? I remember we weren’t the fastest car,” Keselowski said after his qualifying run at Martinsville Speedway last week.
“But we put ourselves in position to make something out of it in the end, so we didn’t give up. It just didn’t all come together.”
Pressed more about the incident, Keselowski refused to acknowledge any sort of regret.
“Throughout my career, I feel pretty good about the decisions that I’ve made,” Keselowski said. “Certainly, they’re not all perfect, and there’s always things you can do better, but that’s how you learn.
“There’s certainly a lot of things that I’d want to improve, but if you’re asking about the way that race played out? That isn’t one of them.”
Keselowski and Gordon have not spoken to one another about the incident, and maybe they never will.
As Keselowski said, “He doesn’t want to talk about it, so that’s his prerogative.”
Gordon seems to be at peace with it. Sure, he would have liked to be in position to win another championship, but he sees no reason to second-guess.
“Everything happens for a reason, I’m a big believer in that and always have been,” Gordon said last month at an event in Dallas. “We didn’t get the win and had the incident with Brad. It’s certainly a learning experience, and I’ve never shied away from controversy.”
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Gordon is alluding to the post-race brawl that ranks among the best in the track’s history. It’s certainly up there with the infamous A.J. Foyt-Arie Luyendyk tussle in 1997.
So the shock would be if TMS president Eddie Gossage didn’t take full advantage of it by plastering it on billboards throughout the Metroplex.
Ten billboards, in particular, show Keselowski touching his bloodied lip on a sign that reads: “Left turns and right crosses!”
And that’s tame in Gossage’s mind.
“It’s just fun. It happened,” Gossage said. “First confrontation I’ve seen where actual blood was spilled. That’s the kind of billboard I wanted to go with, but the staff talked me off that one.
“You’ve got to have fun with this stuff. It’s just a hit in the mouth, it’s not like he got hurt.”
For Gossage and TMS, it became another classic moment for the track. But Gossage also understands that type of incident might not have happened if another driver had made that move.
In the world of NASCAR, some drivers would be praised for making the move Keselowski did. If Gordon or Tony Stewart made a similar decision, for instance, it would be considered perfectly logical by most fans.
But Keselowski, despite already winning a Cup championship in 2012, simply doesn’t have that type of reputation in the sport. At least not yet, right or wrong.
“If I’m owning a team, if I’m a fan of a guy, I want a guy who is aggressive and going for it,” Gossage said. “So I don’t necessarily fault Brad, and I don’t fault Jeff for his reaction. This is what makes racing fun. It ain’t golf.”
As far as Keselowski is concerned, he has no problem being viewed as one of the bad boys of the sport. He is only focused on winning and made that much clear during the interview at Martinsville.
If that means more post-race brawls are in his future, so be it.
“Someone once told me that NASCAR fans eat their young, and I didn’t disagree with that,” Keselowski said. “The best drivers in this sport, without fail, have been hated at some time. There was a point in time where everyone hated Darrell Waltrip. There was a point in time where everybody hated Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon.
“There’s people who don’t have the opportunity to do what I do, so I could sit here and piss and moan about that part, say how Jeff or name X, Y, Z driver would have gotten away with it, nobody would have been the wiser. But it’s not the situation. I’m not really stuck looking back on it.
“Listen, you can make a good living being a Sprint Cup driver, there’s no doubt about that. But my primary motivation is to win, and I’m going to do whatever I can to win.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
Why Brad Keselowski has become the villain of NASCAR:
Texas race last fall. Keselowski made an aggressive move that ruined fan favorite Jeff Gordon’s chances of winning, not only that race but of a championship. Gordon and Keselowski got into a brawl afterward, and the two drivers haven’t spoken since.
Charlotte race last fall. Another aggressive racing tactic by Keselowski left Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin both fuming at the driver. Post-race, Hamlin slammed his brakes on the track to show his displeasure to Keselowski, while Kenseth later put him in a headlock.
Talladega race last year. Keselowski was blamed for causing a 14-car wreck thanks to his aggressive nature once again. The worse part? It happened when Keselowski was six laps down.
Keselowski calls out Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski has a knack for picking fights with the biggest stars of the sport. After winning the 2012 championship, Keselowski said the best way to beat Johnson, a five-time Cup champion at the time, was to race him hard. That didn’t sit well with Johnson or his large fan base.
Twitter rant. On Thursday, Keselowski showed once again why he’s considered one of the more unpopular drivers by ripping fans on Twitter for being too easily “offended.”