Texas Motor Speedway is becoming known as a track that always stirs emotions and drama, and president Eddie Gossage hopes it doesn’t stop anytime soon.
“I give each driver a gift bag and there’s some special stuff in it,” Gossage said, smiling. “I don’t know what it is. I’m just glad that they’re passionate.”
The latest drama came in November when Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and their teams brawled after the AAA Texas 500. It certainly marked arguably the best heated moment of the NASCAR season last year, and possibly ranks as TMS’ top moment.
It’s up there with the legendary tussle between A.J. Foyt and Arie Luyendyk in 1997. Emotions and tension, for whatever reason, run high at the Great American Speedway and we look back at the best heated moments.
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A.J. Foyt downs race winner
June 6, 1997: IndyCar owner A.J. Foyt goes after race winner Arie Luyendyk in the winner’s circle, tossing him to the ground. Foyt, who was 62 at the time, was upset that Luyendyk disputed the electronic scoring that initially awarded the victory to Billy Boat, Foyt’s driver.
Said Gossage: “This has to be No. 1 in my book because it was such a big moment in the sport at that time with the split between IndyCar and CART. All those cameras and every still photographer at the speedway was there clicking away. It was just one of those shots heard ’round the world, it was everywhere almost instantly.
“I was in Victory Lane, it’s usually a celebratory thing, and pop … down goes Arie. Folklore would have it that A.J. popped Arie once and he went down, but it was more of a slap and a shove and then Arie tripped over some concrete planters we had in Victory Lane at the time. So it wasn’t a good, clean shot.”
CART bails out
April 29, 2001: A couple hours before the inaugural Firestone Firehawk 600, CART decides to cancel the race because drivers complained of dizziness during practice. Fans are disappointed the race is canceled, leading to a squabble between Gossage and CART that eventually hit the legal system.
Gossage was disappointed that CART tested at the track months before only at half throttle, which didn’t give drivers an accurate feel for the track.
Said Gossage: “There’s still nothing funny about that one. I talked to people from the Far East, some from Europe, some from South America, that had come to this race and the best we could do was give them the money back for their ticket, not their airfares, rental cars or hotels.
“All responsibility fully fell on CART’s shoulders and I’ve been told from many that that was the nail in the coffin, the day that CART died, which is horrible because it was a great series. You just can’t make those kinds of mistakes.”
As far as the lawsuit, Gossage said the track went to that measure to get the purse money it put up front returned.
“They didn’t want to give us the money back,” Gossage said. “We had to sue them and they eventually saw the logic of our way and months later gave us the money back.”
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Nov. 7, 2010: Jeff Burton caused a bizarre wreck with Jeff Gordon under caution. Burton accidentally ran into Gordon’s car and then pulled alongside him to apologize. He “accidentally” hit him again, causing both to wreck, and angering Gordon yet again. Gordon went after Burton on the apron of Turn 4, attempting to tackle him before being held back.
Said Gossage: “This is the most hard to believe incident between the two least likely people on the track [to fight]. Jeff Burton, to this day, would tell you he didn’t wreck Jeff under caution on purpose, it was a mistake. But then for Jeff Gordon to get out of his car and march down there, I really thought he was going to throw a punch. All he did was shove him, but if you took a poll that morning, those two would have been voted least likely to fight.”
Kyle’s one-finger salute
Kyle’s one-finger salute
Nov. 7, 2010: In that same race, Kyle Busch made headlines of his own. He issued a one-finger salute to a NASCAR official, drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty (two laps) during the race. Busch let his emotions get the best of him as he was being held in the pits for a speeding violation, and later issued an apology saying, “It’s pretty obvious to everyone that I wear my emotions on my sleeve.”
Said Gossage: “Kyle certainly is not the only driver who has done this. You’ve got to think about it, in a race car there is only so much you can do to communicate with others around you and they’re all hand gestures. Not trying to disrespect Kyle, but that’s not a particularly shocking occurrence from him. I’m just glad, and I’m sure the official is glad, that’s all he got as opposed to running him over.”
Over the line
Nov. 4, 2011: In the truck series race, Kyle Busch intentionally wrecks Ron Hornaday Jr. early on in the race under caution. Busch was upset that Hornaday didn’t “check up” a couple laps prior, a reason that didn’t fly with NASCAR as Busch was parked the rest of the weekend. Choice words, not fists, were thrown by each driver after the incident.
Said Gossage: “This was way over the line, way over the line. What Kyle did violated the rules, written and unwritten, in several ways. The way he turned Hornaday really put him in a position to get seriously injured, he hit driver side against the wall. And then people running for the championship, like Hornaday was, are also off limits. You just don’t do it. I’m sure Kyle would say that’s one of his more regrettable moments.”
Nov. 2, 2014: Jeff Gordon is in position to win the race and a spot in the Chase championship round with nine laps to go when Brad Keselowski makes a daring move that cuts Gordon’s left tire, killing Gordon’s chances of winning the race and another championship. The two have a heated exchange after the race, and it escalates when Kevin Harvick pushes Keselowski into the middle of what turns into a melee.
Said Gossage: “Emotions in all sports run high, particularly when you’re running for a championship which both were. This was a real fight, it wasn’t a shove fight. It was a ‘punches are flying’ fight. I don’t think either of those guys would change their positions today.
“It may shock people, I don’t like those things necessarily, but I do like that these guys are passionate. I actually couldn’t see it from Victory Lane, but I knew from the roar of the crowd that somebody was having a moment with somebody else. That’s about as big of a fight as you’re ever going to get.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
Ranking the heated moments
1. Foyt-Luyendyk. This is the track’s first big brawl and, as Gossage said, carried more significance at the time considering the competition in the open-wheel circuits.
2. Gordon-Keselowski. Nobody will soon forget this. It cost another potential championship to this generation’s Michael Jordan of racing, vilified Keselowski once again and eventual series champ Kevin Harvick played the role as instigator.
3. Gordon-Burton. Just a bizarre scenario leading up to the wreck, and a memorable fight considering the two rank among the least likely to brawl.
4. Busch-Hornaday. It might be a forgettable moment for Kyle Busch, but it isn’t for those who witnessed it. Among the more entertaining things you’ll ever see in a truck race.
5. Gossage-CART. Is this the day that CART died? Possibly, so it’s historic in a bad way. But those massive mistakes are tough to ignore.
6. Busch’s salute. This didn’t surprise many, considering Busch’s nature on the track. It served as a precursor, too, for the No. 4 moment a year later.