By Matt Weaver (CONCORD, N.C.) — Tempers flared following the conclusion of the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Saturday night.
Under the pressure of advancing to the next round in the Chase for the Championship, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski all raced each other extremely hard in the closing stages of the race. The post-race shenanigans began during the cool-down lap when Keselowski attempted to intentionally spin Hamlin going into Turn 3.
When he was unsuccessful, Keselowski turned his attention towards Kenseth when they both reached pit road, with Keselowski speeding down the entrance to sideswipe Kenseth. As an unintended consequence, Keselowski bumped into the back of a prone Tony Stewart No. 14 Chevrolet, drawing the ire of the three-time Sprint Cup champion, who promptly tossed his car into reverse and backed into Keselowski.
At this point, Hamlin drove by the melee and Keselowski followed him into the garage area. They both drove down the hill and entered garage stalls 2 and 3 respectively, again making contact inside the garage, and driving through the other end towards both team’s haulers.
The team members from the No. 2, No. 20 and No. 11 teams all began shoving each other in the garage area, with the No. 11 team dragging Hamlin away to their team’s hauler. Simultaneously, Keselowski began walking between the No. 2 and No. 22 hauler when Kenseth came running after, lunging at the 2012 champion, resulting in another shoving contest between the Gibbs and Penske crewmembers.
When the dust eventually settled, NASCAR officials requested that Keselowski and Jesse Sanders (a crew member on the No. 20 team) appear in the Sprint Cup hauler while Kenseth’s crew chief — Jason Ratcliffe — appeared voluntarily.
For Hamlin and Keselowski, the problems began with intense racing on the final restart, leading to Hamlin calling Keselowski “desperate and out of control,” due to his diminishing championship chances.
“It’s either four or five of us are wrong or he’s wrong because he’s pissed off everyone,” Hamlin said. “Just disappointing — but we’re trying to get in this deal. We’re sitting in a decent spot, but we’ve lost six spots or so with the last restart when he ran into us and knocked us up the track. That was unfortunate.
“Matt was nearly out of his car and (Brad) just plowed into Matt and then ran into Tony (Stewart) and then went in through the garage and cleared out transmissions and did burnouts in the garage — just acting like a dumbass instead of a champion.”
Kesneth was mad because he was starting to come to a stop and had his seat belts unbuckled when Keselowski side-swiped him on pit road.
“I had my HANS off and my seat belts off — and he clobbers me at like 50 (mph),” Kenseth said. “With the accidents and stuff that we’ve had around here — the race is over and we’re trying to come back to pit road.
“If he wants to come and talk about it like a man then go do that, but to try to wreck somebody on the race track and to come down pit road with other cars and people standing around with my seat belts off and drive into the side of me is just inexcusable.”
Keselowski explained that he didn’t have a problem with Kenseth until late in the race when, after Kenseth earned the wave-around, he swiped into the side of the No. 2 Ford.
“When we restarted fifth with no right-front on it, we fell all the way back to 16th and it ruined our day,” Keselowski said. “That gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate, and then for some reason after the race the No. 11 stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight.
“I don’t know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car, so I figured if we’re gonna play car wars under yellow and after the race I’ll join too. Those guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it. I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don’t know what’s up with that.”
Following his conversation with NASCAR officials, Keselowski spoke to the media and offered that he was there to simply help them construct the events that had transpired from his perspective. Keselowski said he was not told of any penalties and was not sure if any would ultimately come his way.
“I don’t know — shoot, I never know the answers to those questions. You’ll have to ask them and not me.”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton addressed the media outside of the NASCAR hauler after the meetings with Keselowski, and said that any penalties will be announced on Tuesday and only after the league reviews all the evidence.
“As always, we’ll continue to gather the facts and the tapes and the video, things of that nature,” Pemberton said. “We’ll talk to some other people who were around and we’ll work on that and come up with something by Tuesday like we normally do. Most of the stuff happened on racetrack before pit road. Right now, we’re in the middle of gathering video. We’ve got a lot of cameras available and different things, and that’s why we don’t make decisions tonight.”
The reckless behavior inside the garage area will certainly be a factor when determining penalties, judging from Pemberton’s closing remarks.
“Everything plays into it,” he said. “We just have to gather information on the scope of it from what went on after the checkered flag to what went on in between the haulers.”