Not only did they beat and bang for two laps fighting for the lead at Texas Motor Speedway, they both pushed the limits of NASCAR’s rule book during restarts.
Johnson finally won the race in a green-white-checkered finish by passing Keselowski on a restart.
Although Keselowski was the leader when the green flag waved, Johnson clearly beat him to the starting line.
Two restarts earlier, Keselowski took off too early to maintain his lead.
In both cases, NASCAR could have black-flagged either driver. The sanctioning body instead decided to let them settle their own battle.
And after pushing each other around during the final 10 laps, Johnson and Keselowski have just two rounds remaining in their “bare knuckle” fight.
“Well I expect a lot of hard racing; that is what we’ve seen all year long,” Johnson said after extending his lead in the standings to seven points. “All Chase long, you can’t count those guys out. They are keeping us honest and pressuring us hard.
“The gloves are off and it’s bare knuckle fighting.”
Johnson wasn’t happy Keselowski was allowed to take off early during a late race restart. Kyle Busch, who wound up third, wasn’t happy, either.
“Yeah, it seemed really early to me,” Johnson said. “Caught the 18 (Busch) off guard and myself. I need to look at the video before I put my foot in my mouth or something here, but it seemed early. I felt like he went really early and caught us both off guard.”
“I guess there are no restart rules,” Busch said. “I think Brad went early the last two times. From my vantage point, anyway, from compared to where the line starts you’re supposed to go within the zone, and I felt like he was a little early on that.
“But, you know that’s Cup racing, so what else was going on the racetrack is between those two guys. But from my experience with Brad, it doesn’t surprise me.”
At the same time, Johnson didn’t see anything wrong with getting the jump on Keselowski on the final restart.
“NASCAR has been aware of that in the past and allows you, if you give that nose back, you’re in good shape,” he said.
Neither Johnson nor Keselowski, however, said any of the re-starts affected the outcome. And both promised to continue their slugfest to the very end, starting with Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway and wrapping up a week later with the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think it was probably fair play on both sides,” Keselowski said.