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Jeff Gordon deserves blame for postrace fight, not Brad Keselowski

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Brad Keselowski may be an easy target, but it’s Jeff Gordon who’s responsible for the postrace fight following Sunday’s NASCAR race.

The proper name for NASCAR's playoffs is the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Maybe, NASCAR should consider changing that name to the Fight for the Sprint Cup, because that's what the Chase has evolved into these past few races.

With the importance of the 10 Chase races increasing each subsequent week and the threat of elimination hanging over their collective heads like a guillotine, at no point in recent NASCAR history has a larger group of drivers experienced pressure like they do currently.

Each of the eight drivers still in Chase contention knows the significance of what a win means to their playoff livelihoods. A win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway or next week at Phoenix International Raceway guarantees an opportunity to be among four drivers competing for the championship Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

That understanding has created a pressure unlike any other where one bobble, slip of the wheel or calamity of any kind could very well represent a playoff death knell.

It's why a pair of mild-mannered former champions have metamorphosed into radically different personas twice within the past four weeks. All the while another former titlist is openly embracing the role of the villain, wanting nothing more than to overpower the competition en route to total domination.

Ah, but the narrative isn't as black-and-white as it may seem.

Although Jeff Gordon may be perceived as the beloved fan favorite standing up to the on-track bully known as Brad Keselowski, Sunday's throw down on Texas Motor Speedway's pit road may have in fact been a role reversal.

Obviously angered by a run-in with Keselowski that flattened one of his tires with victory in sight, Gordon acted out. Deliberately, he stopped beside the No. 2 car with the intent of confronting Keselowski, which he did. From there the inevitable scrum erupted with crew members from both teams quickly joining the fray.

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"It's emotion that is a part of this Chase and this format as well as towards people that make dumb decisions," Gordon said. "He has been making a lot of them lately. That is why people have been running after him and chasing him down. It's why his team has got to defend him over there because of what he does on the race track."

Because Gordon is so admired, he naturally is going to be viewed as justified even though he -- and not Keselowski -- was the heel. And Keselowski certainly doesn't help the misperception of events with his continued unapologetic, antagonistic, outspoken behavior.

In this instance, however, Keselowski wanted no interaction with Gordon and even attempted to remove himself peacefully from the situation. Yet when he tried to walk away Kevin Harvick, playing the role of provocateur, shoved Keselowski from behind back towards Gordon triggering the melee.

"If you're going to race like that, you're going to have to man up at some point," said Harvick, who finished second to race-winner Jimmie Johnson. "I mean, he's done it several times. Can't just turn around and let everybody fight all the time without you in there. Have to stand up for your actions at some point yourself."

The only act of belligerence by Keselowski came on the track not off, and that too is excusable considering the stakes.

Said Keselowski: "I came here to race, not fight. If I wanted to be a fighter, I would have joined the UFC or have a management team like he does. I came here to race, 100 percent. That's what I did today" (Harvick owns a company representing UFC fighters).

If anything, the only wrong Keselowski committed was being a victim of his own reputation Sunday night. Because had Keselowski not riled Matt Kenseth like he did last month, and had he been a little less unabashed about being so aggressive, the events of Sunday would have likely unfolded differently.

Most certainly Gordon would have still been upset and maybe sought Keselowski out. That likely would have been as far it went, however. Harvick wouldn't have had the inclination to ensure Keselowski face whatever repercussions he felt Keselowski deserved, which means there then would be no fracas.

It was Gordon, and to a lesser degree, Harvick, who were the aggressors. The only act of belligerence by Keselowski came on the track not off, and that too is excusable considering the stakes.

"The kid is just doing stuff way over his head," Gordon said. "That's just uncalled for. 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."

Facing essentially a must-win situation due to mechanical troubles the week before, Keselowski desperately needed a victory to remain in the Chase. And when that opportunity arose in the form of a hole opening between leaders Johnson and Gordon with two laps to go, Keselowski did exactly what any championship driver would have done given the circumstances. Without giving it a second thought, he pounced.

Unfortunately, by the time Keselowski positioned his car the hole narrowed leaving him one of two choices: 1) back off and allow Johnson and Gordon to motor away and settle for third or, 2) force the issue and go aggressively after the victory he badly needed.

"There was a gap, it closed up," Keselowski said. "By the time it closed up, I was committed and I stayed in it. That almost won me the race. It hurt somebody else's day. That's a shame. But the reality is there was a gap."

What option Keselowski chose was both obvious and correct. And if Gordon were being honest with himself, he would admit to taking the same course of action if in a similar situation. Instead, he chose to place full blame on Keselowski, which while universally popular, also happens to be erroneous.