An all-out brawl erupted at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night between Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, with drivers getting physical following Kevin Harvick’s victory in the Bank of America 500.
The bad blood began after a restart from a caution with about 70 laps to go. On that restart, Keselowski drifted up the track and hit Kenseth, dropping the No. 20 JGR Toyota from fourth to 18th.
On the race’s final restart with two laps to go, Hamlin and Keselowski made contact and Keselowski said Kenseth hit him, too. Then, on the cool-down lap, Hamlin brake-checked Keselowski in Turn 3, and Keselowski tried to spin him out, but failed.
After the race, Kenseth was on pit road with his seatbelts off when Keselowski rammed his car hard from behind and then hit Tony Stewart as well. Stewart then backed up hard into Keselowski’s car.
The usually mild-mannered Kenseth was furious as he went hard after Keselowski while crew members from both teams scuffled.
"I had my HANS off, my seatbelts off and everything and he clobbers me at like 50 (mph)," Kenseth said of Keselowski, who left burnout marks in the Sprint Cup garage stalls. "With the accidents we’ve had around here, the race is over, you come back to pit road, if he wants to come up and talk about it like a man, go do that. To wreck somebody on the race track and come down pit road with other cars and people standing around and my seatbelts off and drive in the side of me is inexcusable. There’s no excuse for that. He’s a champion, he’s supposed to know better than that. I don’t know, I just don’t really have anything else to say."
As Keselowski walked back to his hauler, Kenseth ran and grabbed him, putting him in a bear hug before being pulled away by one of his crewman and Keselowski crew chief Paul Wolfe as the drivers screamed at each other.
"I don’t know a whole lot," said Wolfe. "There was some contact after the checkered flag that got some people excited, and next thing I know there was a fight. I was walking back from the pit box, headed up into the lounge (in the hauler) like I do every week and next thing I know there’s a fight down the side of the trailer. I just came out and tried to do the best I could to help break it up."
Keselowski blamed the Gibbs teammates for the scrum.
"When the last yellow came out, he (Kenseth) got the wavearound and when he came by he swung at my car and tore the whole right-front off of it," said Keselowski. "When we restarted fifth with no right-front on it, we fell all the way back to 16th and it ruined our day. That gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate, and then for some reason after the race the 11 (Hamlin) 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," added Keselowski. "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."
Hamlin was every bit as frustrated as Keselowski and Kenseth.
"He (Keselowski) just ran right into us and knocked us up the race track," Hamlin said of the final restart. "I showed my displeasure on the cooldown lap and I brake-checked him down the backstretch, to give everyone the whole story. And then he tried to spun us out. We got to pit lane and he just plowed into the 14 (Stewart) and the 20 (Kenseth)."
Hamlin said Keselowski hit some other team’s transmission on pit road and knocked it into another pit stall. "He was just out of control," Hamlin said.
Crew member Jesse Sanders from Kenseth’s team was taken to the NASCAR hauler by an official immediately after the fight. Kenseth crew chief Jason Ratcliff was not called to the hauler, but went with Sanders.
Keselowski was invited to the NASCAR hauler after the dust settled.
"We asked Brad to come in to talk to us a little bit and get his take on what went on in the closing laps of the race and the post-race incidents," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "So we’ve got that and we talked to some other people later on.
"We have to have some point person to talk to, so Jesse Sanders was the one that our officials brought him in the trailer to talk to us, and Jason (Ratcliff) was just in there to represent the team and make sure Jesse was there and doing what he did. We did not call Jason to the trailer.
"As always, we’ll look at everything and we’ll continue to gather the facts and the tapes, the video and things of that nature. We’ll talk to other people that were around. We’ll work on that and more than likely we’ll come up with something on Tuesday."
NASCAR wasn’t prepared to hand out any penalties on Saturday night.
"Most of the stuff happened on the racetrack before pit road, before the commitment line and in that neighborhood," Pemberton said. "Right now we’re in the middle of getting data from the video.
"It’s hard, but we’ve got a lot of cameras available and different things. That’s why you don’t make these decisions tonight. We understood it better after talking with Brad.
"You just look at everything that involves the situation — who went after who, whether punches were thrown. We’ll just have to look. We weren’t there, and we’ll have to talk to other people that were to get that information."