CONCORD, N.C. -- If Kyle Busch had to do it over again, he still wouldn't give an inch.
"You run up front, and you try for wins," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "In the last 30 laps, you've got to give it everything you've got. You're not there to roll over and let a guy go."
He certainly didn't do that last Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, when Busch held his ground and kept the lead over Kasey Kahne in a tense one-on-one battle that left the No. 5 car fishtailing into the outside wall. While it wasn't clear whether the two cars made contact, in Kahne's eyes, it didn't matter -- the Hendrick Motorsports driver was still left incensed over being on the wrong end of his third on-track tussle with Busch this season.
To Busch -- who didn't comment after the race last weekend -- the incident at Darlington was just hard racing, although he acknowledged that he and Kahne are building quite a history. They were also involved in accidents at Daytona and Talladega, both the result of Busch inadvertently turning Kahne in tight drafting traffic on the restrictor-plate tracks.
"I don't know why it keeps happening the way it is," Busch said before practice for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. "But this last week was just hard racing, and it certainly became unfortunate. But it does look a little redundant, so I get that part of it, too."
The situation is made all the more strange by the fact that otherwise, Kahne and Busch seem to have no issues with one another. Busch used to drive the No. 5 car that Kahne now pilots, and said he still has plenty of friends over in Hendrick's 5/24 shop, which fields the cars of Kahne and Jeff Gordon -- among them Gordon's crew chief Alan Gustafson, who once called the shots for the No. 5 car, a few engineers and mechanics left over from Busch's days at Hendrick, and a tire specialist who once worked on the No. 18 program at Gibbs.
So there doesn't appear to be any underlying personal beef between Busch and Kahne, emphasized by the fact that Busch called Kahne to apologize the week after the big Talladega crash. The two "have communicated" this week, Busch added. But as Jimmie Johnson well knows, a series of run-ins with the same driver doesn't necessarily always stem from hard feelings. The five-time Sprint Cup champion once had an ongoing saga with Kurt Busch, whom he got along with fine off the track, even if he couldn't stay out of his way on it.
"After talking to both of then, they're both frustrated. Kasey's come out on the losing end of it three times and is more frustrated than Kyle, but it's not like Kyle has an issue with him. It's just been stuff. We've all been through that," said Johnson, a teammate of Kahne at Hendrick.
"I've had it with Kurt, I had it with Sterling Marlin in like '03, '04. It's really no fun when it happens, and you have a magnet for whatever car it is, and it goes on. The way I've been able to break the cycle is, you just consciously have to get away. After one wreck, it wasn't on purpose, you're like, 'OK. No big deal.' Second one happens, and you're like, 'Oh, man, I honestly didn't mean to do it.' And then it goes to a third time, and you're like -- 'OK, if I see you coming, I'm getting the hell out of the way. You go by, I'll go over here.' You just have to try to make it stop that way."
Busch said the incidents at Daytona and Talladega were simply mistakes -- in the former Busch ran over Kahne after the No. 5 car checked up, in the latter Busch turned Kahne trying to slip back in line in the draft. Darlington, though, was a different beast. They were in the last 30 laps, on a track where passing can be difficult, and beyond the last scheduled pit stop. In that situation, Busch gave no quarter, and believes he shouldn't be expected to.
"If I would have let him go, I don't know if I could have gotten back by him," said Busch, who led 265 laps at Darlington but wound up sixth after cutting a tire. "It was a little difficult to pass, and he did seem to have a good car on the long runs, so I knew that protecting my spot was what I had to do at that particular point. But racing up front, racing hard, I'm sure there'll be a moment when it comes back on me. I expect it. It's fine. I just told Kasey, I said, 'Don't make it hurt too bad.' "
Busch was joking, but -- does he expect any kind of retaliation, particularly Saturday night in a non-points exhibition? "I don't think Kasey's that kind of guy," he said. "But if it happens, I'll understand."
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