DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have again focused the NASCAR spotlight on who’s fighting instead of who’s winning.
One race after Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman traded wrecks and words at Richmond, Harvick squared off with Busch following a late crash that took both from contention at Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500 on Saturday night.
Busch slowly followed Harvick into the pit area when the race was done, Harvick eventually jumping out of his car and attempting to punch or grab his rival through his window. Busch then slammed into Harvick’s driverless car to clear space and drive off.
It was an ugly way to end Regan Smith’s first Sprint Cup win in 105 career races. But it’s a spat sure to keep fans and drivers buzzing all week long leading to Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he couldn’t wait to get “on the Internet tonight and check it out. I don’t know what happened.”
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Sunday the organization will review both the disputes this week.
Fighting among NASCAR drivers is nothing new. High speeds, long races and high temperatures often lead to hot tempers. Before the 2010 season, the organization even gave its sanction for drivers to show more emotion and verve with NASCAR’s vice president for competition, Robin Pemberton, saying, “We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time.’”
And there’s been no shortage of dustups since.
At Richmond International Raceway, Montoya and Newman were involved in two different on-track incidents. The first caused Montoya, the pole-sitter, to brush the wall and repairs in pits put him three laps down. He later ran into the back of Newman, who was running eighth, and Newman vowed his payback would come after the race.
The bad blood continued at Darlington with the two meeting with NASCAR on Friday in a session Tharp acknowledged “did not go as well as had hoped it would.”
Whispers popped up that Newman had punched Montoya during the meeting, something both drivers brushed aside later that day.
“With conflict there are varying opinions, that’s what causes the conflict. I’m past it,” Newman said.
Still, every eye at Darlington were likely on those two and things appeared to spark again when Montoya tangled with five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson less than 100 laps in. Montoya quickly apologized for his role.
Things remained calm for rest of the race until the end when Busch, Harvick and Clint Bowyer were three-wide on the narrow racetrack during a late restart when all were trying to chase down Smith. Bowyer was sent sprawling into the interior wall. As cars spun out behind, Busch gathered his car, then veered down the track and sent Harvick spinning.
Smith held on through a green-white-checkered finish to beat Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards, but the real drama was still to come as Busch and Harvick drove from the track. Busch was up against Harvick’s back bumper along pit road when Harvick jumped out and rushed toward Busch’s window before Busch bumped Harvick’s driverless car into the interior wall.
Both were asked into the NASCAR hauler and both left composed — although with different versions of what happened.
Busch said Harvick’s racing was “unacceptable racing.”
“I gave him room off of two, I didn’t get the room,” Busch said.
Harvick said he was racing hard and “things happen. That’s it. What do you do?”
Tharp says NASCAR will look into the scuffles the past two weeks.
What do you do, indeed — except carry the dispute into Dover next week and watch for more fireworks.
Darlington champion Smith won’t let the ugly end diminish his joy. “You know what, if that’s what’s talked about next week, so be it. I don’t care,” he said. “It’s not going to take away from the feeling I’ve got right now.”