September 11, 2011
RICHMOND, Va. — On a night where most of the attention was focused on drivers at the margins of the Chase, it was two drivers firmly locked into the postseason who caused the most on-track fireworks.
Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who have a long-running history, added another chapter to their rivalry and kicked off the rivalry aspect of the Chase in fine style. Early in Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachio 400 at Richmond, Busch's brakes locked up going into Turn 2, and he caught the left-rear quarter panel of Johnson's No. 48. Was it intentional? Perhaps, perhaps not. The end result was that the 48 was effectively removed from competing for a win in a race he'd run quite well up to that point.
And a few laps later, Johnson got his revenge, slamming into Busch's rear bumper. "I'm just not going to let people run our race car over," he said later. "There's been a lot of contact going on, and that's why I retaliated tonight. It was a good time to do it."
"He's got to learn to race," Busch shot back, continuing the theme that he'd started earlier this season that Johnson isn't a bumping-and-banging kind of old-school driver. "He's been able to beat guys the last five years just by out-driving them with what he has for equipment. If he wants to switch equipment, let's see what he can do, but I'm going to beat him fair and square with my Penske Dodge."
But while Johnson appeared to have gotten his temper under control by the end of the race, Busch continued to seethe, and later boiled over. Busch and a reporter had at least two exchanges that grew heated, one in the garage and one in the media center just prior to the monstrous media scrum that had Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Johnson sharing a stage.
Busch later denied that he'd said a quote about being "in [Johnson's] head," even though he stated it on ESPN and the quote was on a transcript. When a reporter showed the transcript to Busch, he simply ripped the transcript in half and threw it back on the reporter's desk.
So, anyway, racing. Can Busch and Johnson coexist during the Chase? Johnson, at least, believes so: "I think we've raced together the last two weeks, three weeks and been just fine on the race track," he said. "It's possible, and I think it's in both of our best interests to get it behind us and go forward."
To quote the great Jerry Seinfeld: Good luck with all that.
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