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AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Brad Keselowski is poised to be NASCAR's new Sprint Cup champion, 20 points in the lead with one race remaining.
But at the moment he is ashamed of the sport, saying what happened at the end of Sunday's race won by Kevin Harvick at Phoenix International Speedway was "embarrassing."
Fans may look back at the fights and crashes that occurred as entertaining, such as the 1979 Daytona 500 that ended with Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers getting into a fistfight in the infield grass.
But this went beyond entertaining. It was, as Keselowski said repeatedly, "absolutely ridiculous."
|Chad Knaus assesses the damage to the No. 48 Chevrolet after Jimmie Johnson slammed the wall with 77 laps to go at Phoenix.|
Pick your moment. There was the wreck between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon fighting over fifth place, and the ensuing melees -- first between Gordon and Bowyer's crew on pit road and then between Bowyer and Gordon's crew in the garage.
There was NASCAR's decision to throw a quick caution just before Harvick took the white flag for what should have been the win for the sake of a green-white-checkered finish.
There was NASCAR's decision to let the race continue with the frontstretch covered in oil and Danica Patrick's car spun out in the middle, resulting in a multicar wreck in which Keselowski barely got through for his sixth-place finish.
It was so out of control that winning owner Richard Childress went to the NASCAR hauler after the race to complain that Harvick should have won before the green-white-checkered finish.
There was so much going on that Jimmie Johnson blowing a tire on Lap 236 of what turned out to be a 319-lap race to give up the points lead -- and probably the title -- was almost an afterthought.
"I'm more just disappointed in the quality of racing that we saw today," Keselowski said. "I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and I was ashamed to be a part of it."
For the record, Keselowski can clinch his first Cup title and the first for team owner Roger Penske by finishing 15th or better at Homestead-Miami Speedway, 16th if he leads at least one lap.
He'll be a great champion for the sport.
But that wasn't on his mind or anybody else's after Sunday's finish, which looked like the last lap at Talladega.
It was particularly personal to Keselowski because only a week ago at Texas defending Cup champion Tony Stewart said he had a "death wish" for racing Johnson so hard over the final laps.
"It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half a dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish, and then I see bulls--- like that," Keselowski said, his voice growing louder."That's all you can call that. These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called an a------ for racing hard and called with a death wish, and I see s--- like that, and it just pisses me off.
Keselowski paused to say he wasn't yelling as his voice grew louder and louder.
"It's just ridiculous, and they should be ashamed," he continued. "It's embarrassing."
This was a time Keselowski should have been bouncing-off-the-walls happy about his position in the standings. Instead, he was bouncing off the walls to get through what looked like a war zone to reach the finish line and asking over his radio: "Why do we have to kill ourselves to get a finish?"
But he wasn't the only unhappy camper.
Outside of Harvick, who was happy to be talking about a win instead of his reported move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, it seemed most of the garage was upset.
Bowyer was upset he didn't get a top-5 finish, which would have left him with a prayer of competing for the title at Homestead. He didn't rule out retaliating against Gordon next weekend.
"It's pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen to act like that," said Bowyer, who claimed Gordon waited to crash him. "Just completely ridiculous."
Team owner Michael Waltrip was upset that his driver was denied a chance to compete for the title by what he called a "cowardly, chicken move" by Gordon.
Gordon was upset because he felt Bowyer had ruined his day several times this season and he was "fed up with it and I got him back." He may be more upset when NASCAR gives him a much-deserved fine.
Even Joey Logano was upset because his childhood hero was involved.
"When I was young I thought Jeff Gordon was the best driver," Logano wrote on Twitter. "Now I've lost a lot of respect for him."
Johnson was upset that the blown tire cost him a chance to realistically race Keselowski for the title next week.
But nobody seemed more upset afterward than Keselowski, the driver who should have been the happiest after Harvick.
"The retaliation is out of control in this sport," he said. "We've got a bunch of drivers that feel like they have to retaliate or they're being challenged as a man, and that's ridiculous. It's not what this sport needs. I don't think it's good for anybody, and it's going to get somebody hurt.
|Danica Patrick's broken No. 10 Chevrolet was a sitting duck when the field raced toward the checkers through an oil slick.|
"I've said before we walk a line between chess players and daredevils, and we're not walking it very well. I don't know why that is. I certainly don't blame NASCAR for that. They're not driving the cars."
But NASCAR was inconsistent in throwing the cautions, which led to even more of the insanity at the end.
Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton defended the decision not to throw the caution when Patrick spun out, saying Patrick had gotten out of harm's way and officials didn't see any fluid on the track.
Second-place finisher Denny Hamlin, by the way, said there was so much oil that "Ray Charles could see it." Harvick said there was "a lot more oil than there was asphalt."
Regardless, the inconsistency was an embarrassment.
So were the fights. "Boys, have at it" should be about two drivers battling door-to-door for wins, not grown men acting like children over fifth or sixth place.
"That's not what this sport needs," Keselowski said. "It needs hard racing, it needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all out there on the line, not a bunch of people that have anger issues.
"That's not good for anybody, and it really hurt my feelings to be a part of a Chase race for the championship and have that jeopardized from people that can't keep control of their emotions."
In a week, Keselowski will look back at this day as when he probably won the championship. In three weeks, Gordon and Bowyer and everyone involved likely will be laughing about all this as they party in Las Vegas during Champion's Week.
And while Harvick is right that the sport was born on fighting, he understands there was a lot wrong with what happened at the end.
"Those are the guys that are going to have to look themselves in the mirror, the guy who's calling the races, and decide if they're doing a good job," he said of officials.
Yes, NASCAR is poised to name a new champion in one week. But officials better beware this is a champion who, while representing the sport well, won't hesitate to call it on the carpet when things go wrong.
On Sunday, a lot went wrong.
"We all have to have a certain level of respect for each other in order for this sport to put on the quality of show that our fans deserve," Keselowski said. "But we also have to have an inner passion and desire to win, and those two have to be balanced with each other.
"They're here," he added, gesturing with his hands, "and they're here, and it's out of control."