AVONDALE, Ariz. — official release — Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America photo —
Following a 31st-place finish in the Eliminator Round opener at Martinsville, it looked like series wins leader Brad Keselowski had to visit Victory Lane at Texas or Phoenix to advance to the series championship.
After a bounce-back third-place Fort Worth finish, Keselowski now ranks seventh in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, just five points behind Jeff Gordon for the final spot to be among the Championship 4.
The 2012 NSCS title winner has one more shot to either close the points gap or win to make the Championship 4 at Homestead – this Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
In 10 starts at Phoenix, Keselowski boasts three top fives and a sixth-place finish, all since the track was repaved in 2011. He won the pole and took third at the one-mile tri-oval in March.
The 30-year-old Michigan native only controls his Chase destiny by winning, a feat he already has accomplished during this Chase. Just three weeks ago, Keselowski saw his 2014 championship window close following a 16th-place Charlotte finish, followed by a post-race antics fracas involving him, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. The following week? He won at Talladega to advance to this Eliminator Round.
Now, another driver has a target on Keselowski’s back – Jeff Gordon.
On a late restart at Texas, Keselowski attempted to shoot the gap between Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the victory – similar to his move that won him the Chase opener at Chicagoland. He failed to make it through, popping Gordon’s left-rear tire on contact and plummeting the No. 24 driver from second to 29th.
After the race, Gordon took exception to Keselowski’s move and the two drivers brawled along with their pit crews.
“That’s just uncalled for,” Gordon said. “You’re racing for a win and a championship. You don’t go slam someone and cut their left-rear tire. If that’s what it takes, then no problem. We can do the same thing to him.”
Keselowski maintained he was trying to win, the same task he will attempt in Phoenix.
“I am doing everything I can to win this championship racing at 100 percent and that is something I am not going to be ashamed for,” he said. “If I was out there wrecking guys to do it, that would be one thing, but a little bit of rubbing is how this sport was created and probably how it should move forward. I don’t mind getting raced that way and I don’t mind racing that way.”