DARLINGTON, S.C. — Those Busch brothers can’t seem to avoid the spotlight at Darlington Raceway.
A year after Kyle Busch tangled with Kevin Harvick in the pits following Regan Smith’s first Sprint Cup win, the crew for Kurt Busch scrummed with Ryan Newman’s group while Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson celebrated the car owner’s 200th career victory at the Southern 500 on Saturday night.
Kurt Busch’s temper rose after he slid six laps from the end. Newman was caught up in the incident as well. Busch sped out of the pits near Newman’s crew. After the race, Busch hit the back of Newman’s car and further angered rival crew members. Moments later, both sides were packed together and a series official was knocked backward on Busch’s car hood.
NASCAR is reviewing the fracas to see if penalties are warranted, said vice president of competition Robin Pemberton.
“That’s just Southern 500 emotion,” said racer, team owner and broadcast analyst Michael Waltrip.
Seems the Busch boys can’t escape that at Darlington.
In 2011, Harvick was angered by Kyle, the younger of the Busch brothers, after the two had contact late in the race won by Smith. While Smith and his underdog team celebrated, Harvick confronted Busch and tried to throw a punch through the window. Kyle Busch eventually pushed Harvick’s driverless car out of the way. Both drivers were fined $25,000, placed on suspension and stole the spotlight from the success of Smith’s one-car operation run out of Denver far from NASCAR’s Charlotte hub.
The latest Darlington drama unfolded as one of the sport’s most respected NASCAR leaders in Hendrick enjoyed his long-anticipated milestone victory. Johnson broke free from Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin on the final restart. The victory capped 16 races of waiting since Johnson won Hendrick Motorsports’ 199th race at Kansas last October.
As the celebration played out in victory lane, Kurt Busch came into the pit and knocked into Newman’s car. Newman’s gas man, Andy Rueger, moved toward Busch on pit road and the driver had to be held back by his team members.
A Sprint Cup official fell back on Busch’s car, but Pemberton didn’t think it was an aggressive move toward the official.
“We’re looking at film, we’re still getting all the facts straight,” Pemberton said after the race. “We haven’t talked to Kurt; we talked to Ryan a little bit. He talked to Kurt afterwards and he told him he didn’t mean to hit him, he was taking his helmet off and looked up and he’d run into the back of him. So right now that’s really all the facts that we have.”
Anger issues cost Kurt Busch his ride with Penske Racing as both sides mutually parted after last season. Busch acknowledged the split came about because he was too tightly wound. He said he started seeing a sports psychologist last December.
Busch did not talk to reporters following the Southern 500. But Newman wasn’t buying Busch’s explanation to NASCAR.
Newman said he and his team were upset because Busch sped through their pit after the last stop.
“It’s easy to say that Kurt blew a fuse again,” Newman told SI.com. “I’m not sure why he did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. And nobody is. I think the chemical imbalance speaks for itself. Kurt drilled me in pit lane and said that he was taking his helmet off, and he didn’t see where he was going. I’m pretty sure there were 42 other guys that are taking their helmets off and doing whatever for the last 10 years, and that’s the first time that’s happened to me.
“Circumstances I think are that he lied and was so frustrated that he doesn’t know how to deal with his anger,” Newman said.
There were only smiles and gratefulness from Hendrck and his organization at their latest accomplishment.
Johnson presented the car owner with a commemorative helmet signed by all the drivers who worked for Hendrick since he opened what was then called All-Star Racing in 1984. Geoff Bodine captured Hendrick’s first victory at Martinsville that season and through the years the rechristened Hendrick Motorsports has fielded 10 series driver champions, including five with Johnson.
“I am kind of numb,” Hendrick said early Sunday morning. “But I am glad it is over. I think we are going to win a few more, now.”