A million dollars makes a man do strange things.
He'll cross lines he wouldn't otherwise cross. Sell out friends, neighbors, family. Do things he may not be proud of in the morning's light.
Saturday night, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, found themselves at the front of the pack with only a few laps to go in the Sprint All-Star Race. On the line? A one million-dollar prize to the winner.
Busch had been running at the front all night; Hamlin had made a charge to the front from deep in the pack. They're two of NASCAR's best drivers, and with no points on the line, this duel was looking like it would be an instant classic.
And indeed it was, but not for the racing. Hamlin blocked Busch high, and the sudden loss of air sent Busch careening into the wall:
Kyle, naturally, was livid. "Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race," he said over the radio. "All his [profane] fault. I had this race won! It was won!"
As the AP's Jenna Fryer recounted, Busch then drove his car over to Hamlin's hauler, not his own, and stormed inside -- helmet and safety devices still on -- to wait for Hamlin. When Hamlin arrived, a long conversation ensued, with team owner Joe Gibbs serving as referee.
After the discussion -- and oh, how sweet it would've been to listen in on this one -- Busch stepped out a side door of the hauler and avoided media, while Hamlin met the horde and gave his side of the story.
"I told him my job as the leader is to do everything I can to win that race," Hamlin said. "And this race in specific is a much different beast than what a points race is. I think he understands that now, from my standpoint, that we're going to drive each other different. No doubt about it."
Gibbs downplayed the feud, but noted that it happened because, well, his boys are just that darn good: "When you have good cars and good drivers, you're going to be up front and this can happen. You can get a situation where two guys are racing each other hard and both of them have a burning desire to win the race." For the record, Joey Logano, the third member of the Gibbs stable, finished third. So, yeah, they're running pretty well these days.
How will this impact the rest of the season? That's a huge question, and one that probably kept Gibbs up worrying Saturday night. Hamlin and Kyle, along with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, are clearly the class of the Sprint Cup circuit, and they'll have other moments this year when they'll be going at each other for a chance at the checkered flag. If Kyle can keep his well-documented temper under control and keep his eye on the larger prize, this incident could be the tiniest anecdote on the way to a championship. If not, Hamlin might find this wreck will end up costing him a lot more than he'd ever expected.
(Oh, as for the winner? That was none other than Kyle's brother Kurt, who in 2007 famously spun out Kyle. That incident wasn't smoothed over between the brothers until Thanksgiving. Gibbs had better hope this particular spat doesn't take that long to heal.)
The big winner in all this? NASCAR. Between this new feud and the simmering Johnson-Gordon feud earlier this season, we've got the most fascinating -- from a storyline perspective -- season in years. And the fact that it's all taking place among the best drivers in the sport, well ... we're on the way to making every Sunday a must-watch race again.
Posted Jun 24 2012
Posted Jun 24 2012
Posted Jun 23 2012