We always knew the 48-18 battle was going to happen; we just didn't expect it was going to be for 13th place.
Historically, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch haven't had a whole lot of rivalry out on the track. Johnson has busied himself with Kyle's brother Kurt, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon, while Kyle's energies have focused more on Kevin Harvick and, on occasion, Carl Edwards. But now the two drivers installed as some of the favorites before the Chase began are dueling for lower positions, and the frustrations in both are mounting.
The key moment for both in last week's Loudon race came with just 20 laps remaining, when Busch and Johnson tangled. After some traded paint, Johnson nearly lost control and slid several positions backward. Busch could be heard screaming over the radio that Johnson needed to "get his freaking head in the game."
"He was just racing really hard, which was just what he's supposed to do," Johnson said afterward. "Typically, the one lane off the bottom is the lane you give someone when they're on the inside of you. And he didn't want to give that lane up. And we just made some contact. It wasn't like he was trying to wreck me or anything, he was just being kind of stubborn and 'end of a race' mentality."
This particular dustup falls under the heading of "one of them racing deals," but it's another clue that this Chase is unlike any other in recent memory: Johnson isn't yet storming to the lead, and nobody's showing anyone any extra respect. Expect these kinds of door-bangers to get more common in the weeks ahead.