Beth Lunkenheimer · Sunday October 6, 2013
As the laps dwindled down in Saturday afternoon’s Kansas Lottery 300, it looked like Matt Kenseth would cruise to victory with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch more than two seconds behind him. But with just 11 laps remaining, Busch and Keselowski got together sending the No. 22 Ford spinning along the frontstretch before backing into the wall hard enough to tear apart the back end and even knock the battery loose.
After taking a look under the hood, determining that he wouldn’t be able to get the car back to the garage on his own, Keselowski started jogging toward Busch’s pit stall all while he was being told on the radio to be smart about what he was doing. Instead of confronting Busch’s crew, Keselowski just gestured at them before heading up pit road where he was stopped by NASCAR officials and told to make the mandatory visit to the infield care center. Instead of taking the short ambulance ride there, he jogged the whole way, with a large group of media members and officials in tow, while his car headed back to the garage area. There, the crew hoped they’d be able to fix it and get back out; after all, the car is in the owner’s championship against Joe Gibbs Racing, the very No. 54 car that caused the contact. The damage turned out to be terminal, though and Keselowski was left to settle for a 28th-place result, tightening that race and turning tempers overboard. That finish, combined with Busch’s top 5 helped shrink the gap between Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing in the owners’ standings from 28 markers to just five.
Keselowski didn’t mince words when he was asked about the incident.
“I got wrecked by a dirty driver. There is no other way of putting it. He is cool with that,” he said. “I have raced him really cool over the last year to be respectful to him and try to repair our relationship. I’ve watched him wreck my trucks and cost him from winning race. He put me in the fence in Chicago in the truck race and the Nationwide races he has been pulling this crap.”
It’s no secret that the pair have had their share of run-ins in the past, but Busch, for his part denied that the move was intentional.
“It was hard racing,” said Kyle. “We were fast and had a shot to win the race, probably and just got too tight up off the corner underneath the 22 (Keselowski) there and got too close to him, got inside of his wake. I couldn’t get the car to turn, so it ultimately got into him and spun him out.”
Perhaps Busch really was struggling with a tight condition when he slid up the track and into the No. 22 Ford; however, the replays tell a different story. One camera angle, looking straight through Busch’s windshield, shows his hands turning to the right at the moment the two got together. If you ask me, that’s pretty fishy and stands out as something intentional regardless of what he says. I’m not claiming to have been inside Busch’s head and know exactly what was going on at the time. However, the video of his hands, along with an in-car camera view where you could hear he never let off the throttle, definitely makes it appear planned. It could have just been that Busch was attempting to keep himself from wrecking after the initial contact, but it’s not like Keselowski was crowding him down to the bottom of the track, either.
Without coming out and actually using the word retaliation, Keselowski pretty much assured everyone that something else between the two is coming.
“It is not gonna last, I can tell you that,” the reigning champ explained about Busch’s Cup equipment. “I feel bad for the guys next to me that are going to have to fix his stuff. That is going to be part of racing and they are going to have to deal with it.”
Of course, Busch had his own thoughts on what Keselowski said after the incident.
“Well, that just goes to show you the kind of person Brad Keselowski is and the class he doesn’t have,” Busch said. “I got wrecked for the Chase spot at Watkins Glen (last season) by Brad Keselowski and then had an opportunity to wreck him a few times throughout the Chase and didn’t — let him and Jimmie (Johnson) battle it out on their own and ultimately he won the deal. If I wanted to, I could have cost Brad Keselowski the championship, but I’m a bigger person than that.”
The question that remains is whether any of this tension will boil over into Sunday afternoon’s Hollywood Casino 400 and alter Busch’s championship chances or even worse, collect an innocent bystander.
I’d like to think that any driver involved in a tense moment with a fellow competitor is smart enough to know that their actions will be under more of a microscope shortly afterward, so it’s not all that likely that anything will come of it at Kansas. But that doesn’t mean Keselowski won’t find a time somewhere in the near future to ensure that Busch doesn’t have a shot at winning the championship. After all, Martinsville is just a few short weeks away, and any contact there can easily be passed off as just a short track racing incident.
But while contact in the Cup Series, especially at a place like Martinsville, can be passed off as something less than it is, the idea that Keselowski would use the Cup side of things to retaliate is a little disturbing. Sure, he’s got nothing to lose when it comes to this year’s championship battle. But don’t you think something that happens in another series should be paid back in that same series rather than carrying over into a different one?
One thing is for sure, though: if something happens between the pair in the final seven races, it will have been Busch that sealed his own fate while starting a fight that never needed to happen in the first place. Saturday, at Kansas could be a turning point in the Chase without anything ever happening in a Cup race itself.
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