MARTINSVILLE, Va. – They’ve cussed and fussed, wrestled and wrangled and beat and banged.
NASCAR’s Chase not only determines the champion but provides the settling for driver confrontations on and off the track.
As the series prepares for Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, a question asked is if Matt Kenseth will retaliate against Joey Logano for their run-in earlier this month at Kansas Speedway. If not, might there be another driver conflict ready to explode this weekend?
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 10 driver confrontations involving at least one title contender during Chase races only.
10 – Kevin Harvick vs. Matt Kenseth, Martinsville 2014
Upset with Kenseth about contact that wrecked him, Harvick said after the race: “He won’t win this championship. If we don’t, he won’t.’’
Kenseth takes the blame. He wheel-hopped entering Turn 1 and slid up the track, striking the left rear of Harvick’s car and sending it into the wall.
Harvick proves to be right. Kenseth doesn’t win the title because Harvick does.
9 – Greg Biffle vs. Jimmie Johnson, Martinsville 2013
While Johnson is about to do an interview after the race, Biffle approaches from behind, grabs Johnson around the shoulder and spins him around.
Biffle is upset with contact the two had during the race that damaged the rear of Biffle’s car and forced him to pit.
After a brief confrontation – “You better watch it,’’ Biffle tells Johnson – Biffle turns to walk away. Johnson grabs him by the arm. “You want to talk about it?’’ Johnson asks. “I just did,’’ Biffle said.
8 – Kyle Busch vs. David Reutimann, Kansas 2010
Reutimann spins during the race after contact from Kyle Busch. Later in the race Reutimann, who is not in the Chase, runs into Busch, who is in the Chase, forcing Busch’s car into the wall. Busch finishes 21st and drops from third to seventh in the points.
7 – Kevin Harvick vs. Jimmie Johnson, Chicago 2015
Johnson makes contact with Harvick when he tries to get off the apron and back on the track on a restart. The contact causes Harvick’s left rear tire to go down a few laps later and his car to crash. Harvick opens the Chase finishing 42nd. After the race, Johnson seeks Harvick to explain what happened. Harvick responds by striking Johnson in the chest.
6 – Carl Edwards vs. Matt Kenseth, Martinsville 2007
As Kenseth prepares to do a TV interview after the race, Edwards, his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, approaches and places his hands on Kenseth’s chest, pushing him back to talk. Later, Edwards reaches out with his left hand to grab Kenseth while balling his right fist and faking a punch. Kenseth flinches. Edwards smiles at Kenseth before walking away. Edwards later apologizes and says the two have barely talked in a six-month period.
5 – Jeff Gordon vs. Jeff Burton, Texas 2010
They wreck under caution. As they walk toward each other on the backstretch, Gordon lunges and shoves Burton twice. Officials step between them but Gordon continues to display his displeasure. Gordon later said: “I wanted to show him how upset I was, but I wanted to do a whole lot more than that.’’ Burton said the incident was his fault and he understands Gordon’s reaction: “He was mad and he should have been mad.’’
4 – Brad Keselowski vs. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, Charlotte 2014
Denny Hamlin chases after Brad Keselowski as they both drive back to the garage after the race. Hamlin gets out of his car but is held back by his crew. Moments later, Matt Kenseth runs after Keselowski between the haulers and puts him in a headlock.
Problems begin with about 60 laps left when Kenseth is squeezed into the wall while racing Keselowski for the lead on a restart. During a late caution, Kenseth had the free pass. When he drives by the field, he cuts across Keselowski’s nose and damages Keselowski’s car.
On a restart with two laps to go, Keselowski pushes Hamlin into Turn 1. After the race, Hamlin jams his brakes in front of Keselowski to show his displeasure with what Keselowski did at the end of the race. Then Keselowski drives down pit road to chase Kenseth and sideswipes Kenseth’s car. Kenseth was undoing his safety belts as he drove down pit road, angering him and leading him to run after Keselowski in the garage. Stewart stops his car on pit road and backs into Keselowski’s car.
Said Keselowski: “I figured if we’re going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I’ll join, too.’’
3 – Carl Edwards vs. Kevin Harvick, Charlotte 2008
This incident starts the week before at Talladega when Edwards triggers a multi-car crash. Harvick calls Edwards a “pansy” in a TV interview for riding in the back much of the day and said “if he had been racing all day, maybe he would have known how long the front of his car was.’’
Edwards responds by leaving a note on Harvick’s airplane that states: “I was really trying to screw up everyone’s day. Love, Carl.’’
The following week at Charlotte, Edwards approaches Harvick in the Nationwide garage. Witnesses describe it as a heated discussion. As Harvick turns to walk away, Edwards grabs him by the shoulder and spins him around. Harvick shoves Edwards, forcing Edwards on to the hood of Harvick’s car. The two are separated.
2 – Brad Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon, Texas 2014
Keselowski went to split a gap between Gordon and Jimmie Johnson late in the race but makes contact with Gordon’s car that led to a tire going down and Gordon spinning.
After the race, Gordon stops his car on pit road next Keselowski’s and walks toward Keselowski. After a brief discussion, Keselowski steps away before Kevin Harvick pushes him back toward Gordon, inciting a melee that leads to NASCAR suspending four Hendrick Motorsports crew members. Both Gordon and Keselowski emerge from the scrap with cut lips.
1 – Clint Bowyer vs. Jeff Gordon, Phoenix 2012
Jeff Gordon is sent into the wall after contact with Bowyer while running fifth with seven laps to go. Gordon circles slowly, waiting for Bowyer and turns Bowyer into the wall, collecting Joey Logano.
Gordon drives his car to the garage. Bowyer stops on pit road.
As Gordon climbs from his car, members of Bowyer’s crew run over and a fight between the crews ensues. Bowyer sees the fracas on a video board, climbs from his car and sprints to the garage as fans cheer. Bowyer runs to Gordon’s hauler before NASCAR officials stop him.
“It’s just things have gotten escalated over the year, and I’ve just had it,’’ Gordon said. “I’ve had it and was fed up with it and got him back.’’
Said Bowyer: “It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best the sport’s ever seen to act like, it’s completely ridiculous.’’