FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Jeff Gordon knows there could be some desperate drivers in Texas on Sunday trying to get what he already has — one of the four spots to race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in the season finale.
With Matt Kenseth starting a two-race suspension after intentionally wrecking Chase contender Joey Logano last weekend at Martinsville, the big question with only two races and three championship spots left before Homestead is if drivers will change their approach if racing for a win in the late laps.
“Nobody should have to tell you what happened at Martinsville was wrong,” said Brad Keselowski, who has the pole at Texas. “And if somebody has to tell you, then you should have never made it this far in the sport.”
Kenseth’s car was damaged in a wreck with Keselowski. Kenseth later returned to the track and was nine laps down when he drove race-leading Logano into the wall as retaliation for a crash between the two drivers three races earlier.
“Racing is racing. Guys have wrecked each other since racing started, OK? That’s not going to change,” said Martin Truex Jr., who is third in Chase points behind Gordon and Kyle Busch. “Guys get mad all the time. I think that people will go about it differently now because of what happened this week, for sure. How far that goes, I’m not real sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Kurt Busch told NBC Sports on Saturday that Keselowski had intentionally wrecked Kenseth.
Last November at Texas, Keselowski was unapologetic after bumping past a leading Gordon on a restart at Lap 335, one more than the race’s scheduled length. Keselowski pushed through a gap when the No. 24 car drifted up a bit on the outside and made contact with Gordon, who wound up 29th instead of getting a big playoff victory.
By winning at Martinsville, Gordon got to Texas already assured of racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22 for his fifth season championship before retiring at the end of this season.
While at Homestead and going for a championship will be a different scenario, Gordon said the goal at Texas is having a solid performance. But he’d go for a win if he had a chance against another Chase contender to do it in a clean way — with one exception.
“If it is the No. 2 car (Keselowski), then that is going to be different,” Gordon said.
“To just go do that to whoever I’m racing in the Chase when I feel like a little more desperate or because they were blocking me, and I didn’t like that, I don’t know if that is worth that,” he said. “Because, in my opinion, that is going to come back to you in the next couple of weeks, possibly at Homestead. I don’t know if that risk is worth taking at this point of the game.”
Gordon starts 18th at Texas, where the top four qualifiers were Chase contenders Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Bush and Logano, who slipped to last among the remaining eight contenders after Martinsville.
There was no practice Saturday when efforts to dry the track after overnight rains were unsuccessful.
Carl Edwards, a three-time Texas winner and Chase contender who starts 13th, isn’t sure he understands where the line is and what kind of repercussions there could be for on-track incidents after the penalty against his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
“I guess I don’t know. It was a shock, the penalty to me,” Edwards said. “I think everyone will be on pretty decent behavior because of that. If that’s how it’s going to be, we definitely have to be careful.”
Edwards is a spot ahead of Keselowski, who has described himself as being in a “must-win situation.” Then that would also have to apply to Logano, his fellow Team Penske driver.
Edwards said he didn’t have a “Free Matt” T-shirt like the one Denny Hamlin was photographed wearing this week. But he could get one from his other JGR teammate, who is selling T-shirts with the same message for charity to benefit the Denny Hamlin Foundation.
“Everybody is just blazing forward to win a championship,” Edwards said, when asked of the mood around the Gibbs teams. “I saw Matt. We have a group texting and he was talking about fantasy football this week. He seems to be pretty relaxed. As a group, we feel like we have a shot to win this championship.”