Competitors differ on the modern day driver code.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski will just agree to disagree when it comes to driver etiquette.
Gordon insists last Sunday’s tussle at Texas Motor Speedway could have been avoided if Keselowski simply had taken the time to discuss the contact between the drivers on the track that inevitably cut the tire on the No. 24 and sent the Chevy into the spin cycle.
“Well, it escalates because Brad didn’t want to face the situation,” Gordon said. “Those pit crew guys were kind of in the middle of that. The thing that I feel terrible about is getting my guys involved with it. I feel like if we could have just had a face-to-face there would have been no incident.
“Kevin (Harvick) played a role; there is no doubt about that. I didn’t realize who it was at the time. I thought it was him, but it wasn’t until I went back and saw it later on video and got a good chuckle out of that one that I realized what had happened.”
Risk vs. reward
What Gordon didn’t find amusing was Keselowski forcing the situation on the racetrack. The four-time Cup champion has “no issue with a guy being aggressive and making a bold move” – until it results in taking another competitor out of contention.
When you don’t win the race and you ruin a person’s day then there are consequences that you are going to have to deal with.
“If you win the race and the guy that you slam finishes third or fourth I will be the first one to stand up and say that was awesome, that was a great move,” Gordon said. “But when you don’t win the race and you ruin a person’s day then there are consequences that you are going to have to deal with.
“How you handle yourself after that is a part of that. To me if you are going to compare to the greats of this sport that have been aggressive over the years, you also have to compare how they handle themselves in those situations afterwards.
“The ones that I have had to deal with on that, they know how to not make enemies, they might not have a lot of friends out there, but they also don’t have a lot of enemies. If they do they seem to find a way to patch that up fairly quickly.”
Can't we all just get along?
Gordon wanted to understand Keselowski’s decision making process prior – or perhaps have the Team Penske driver show a bit a remorse – but the opportunity never materialized. As a young driver, Gordon had his share of dustups with the late Dale Earnhardt but the acrimony never lingered.
I don’t believe that you’re out there to try to make friends. But you’re not out there to try to make enemies.
“I got wrecked a couple of times by Dale Earnhardt Sr.,” Gordon said. “And I can tell you the first thing that he did was try to put his arm around you and say, ‘Hey man, I didn’t mean to do that. I really apologize.’ And while you didn’t necessarily believe him (laughter), it had an effect. It did.
“There are just some guys you can race like that and some guys you can’t race like that…Most of the time with Dale, you thought it was your fault. You caused it. And he was pretty good at doing that, too. But if it was his fault, he had a way, usually with a bit of a sense of humor, to sort of ease your concerns.
“I don’t believe that you’re out there to try to make friends. But you’re not out there to try to make enemies. Nobody needs enemies out there. That doesn’t help you win races and championships.”
Standing his ground
Keselowski’s tone hasn’t changed since Sunday. Although he’s already “moved on” Keselowski claims his fellow competitors are trying to extinguish his spirit and that’s not going to happen.
I don’t think it’s really productive for me to get into the he-said, she-said because at the end of the day we disagree.
“At the end of the day we all have our own biases,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think it’s really productive for me to get into the he-said, she-said because at the end of the day we disagree. That kind of is what it is. I think the more I dig into becoming what someone else wants me to be, the less I stay who I am and who I am is someone who can win races and be a championship threat year over year with a great team that supports me, a great cast of family and friends.
“I’m not looking to become what everyone else wants me to become, so I have not spent a lot of time on that rhetoric and I don’t wish to spend a lot of time trying to justify anything I do or don’t do. I feel pretty good about the actions I’ve taken. Certainly I’m not perfect. I’ve made some bad ones, but I didn’t make any bad ones last week and I still feel that way.”
Knowing that team owner Roger Penske has Keselowski’s back makes all the difference to the driver. Keselowski acknowledged that spoke with his boss at length this week and is reassured by Penske’s support.
“We have a really active dialogue, which is one of the reasons why I love driving for him and I’m proud to do so, but beyond that we’ve addressed this situation as we would any situation,” Keselowski said. “I can say and it means a lot to me that he’s been extremely supportive, probably more so than you guys will ever know, and I feel very confident about my position in this sport and with my team at Team Penske accordingly.”
Confronting the issue
Gordon, who has spent more than two decades in NASCAR’s top tour, says there has been no communication between the two drivers. While younger drivers embrace modern technology to make amends, Gordon prefers to confront his peers in person.
“Well, I don’t believe in the whole texting thing and calling,” Gordon said. “I like face-to-face. But there’s a period of time that needs to go by before; sometimes you can do face-to-face. Typically, I want it to happen immediately on both sides. And then, if that doesn’t occur, then I’d like to wait until the next weekend when I can see them face-to-face. Or, if I run into them somewhere, I don’t know. But I’m not one to do the calling and texting. That’s just not the way I believe it should be done.”