Both Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch experienced some on-track frustration of their own making this past weekend at Watkins Glen.
At the start of the race, Kyle Busch (starting 7th) got into the corner and apparently spun out all by himself. At the BEGINNING OF THE RACE. What is also apparent is that he put all the blame for the spin on William Byron (starting 2nd). Kyle Busch then chased down Byron going into the bus stop and put a fender to him, sending him through the grass. At that point, crew chief Chad Knaus told Byron that he better take care of the 18 car or they would have a problem.
Kyle Busch knew this retaliation was coming and as Byron got to him, he brake-checked Byron caving in the nose of Byron’s Camaro on the rear of Busch’s Toyota.
That wasn’t the end of Busch’s day of run ins with drivers who have yet to win a race in 2018. Later on, Busch and Bubba Wallace got together. Busch drove Bubba wide after hard racing that Busch obviously took offense to. He not only drove him wide, but body slammed him for good measure. Bubba decided enough was enough and hooked Busch, sending him spinning again. Busch’s team came on the radio and told him to remember that they are there to get maximum points and to not damage his car any more.
Analysis: Kyle Busch is a past champion that hates to lose. We love that about him. But with that also comes some anger issues. In hard racing that doesn’t go his way, often Kyle will retaliate when it isn’t warranted. He can go from being able to rebound and save a race to totally ruining his day and living a self-fulfilling prophecy of a wrecked day, a wrecked car and wrecked relationships with fellow drivers.
With Joey Logano having a bad day, Busch sits atop the points again with plenty of wins to advance to the playoffs, so his season is not on the line. But that doesn’t give him the right to throw his weight around needlessly. Busch ended the day 10th well ahead of Byron (21st) and Wallace (28th). Neither are a threat to him, so why mess around? Just to be a bully or prove a point – and that point is exactly what again?
Should Knaus have urged retaliation? Maybe. But catching the 18 in a better position for retaliation would have been better. Byron chose a bad spot and time and Busch was ready for him. Byron needed a better day than 21st in a race he started 2nd in.
Jimmie Johnson also felt he was owed some room in hard racing. In an area known for tight racing, he and Ryan Blaney got close and Johnson spun out. Was there contact? Slight contact, nothing serious and nothing that Johnson couldn’t have anticipated given the track position and racing condition. Blaney is on record already that he is done playing nice guy and perhaps needs to be meaner out there. This wasn’t a case of being meaner but with both drivers vying for the post season, there is no reason for Blaney to give up a spot to Johnson just because he is Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson then went on to trash talk Blaney for being nervous or whatever while Johnson was dressing him down. That didn’t win him any points with Blaney.
Analysis: Johnson is fighting for his playoff life right now and expects others to give him consideration as a 7-time champion. Ryan Blaney is fighting for a win and his post season as well. Blaney is as considerate as Mark Martin was on track, sometimes to his detriment. He now knows what Johnson expects and he owes Johnson nothing. This was a racing incident as much Johnson’s fault as Blaney’s. While we like to see some spark out of Johnson, we also like to see young drivers fighting hard to win and establish themselves in the sport.
Michigan is up next and has a lot of racing room. I expect far fewer incidents because of that. Bristol is the next likely place for payback. There are only 4 more races where a driver can win and guarantee a playoff spot. Johnson has been running a little better but he needs to do a lot more to save his season. Jones, Larson, Newman, Bowyer and Suarez are all clumped near Johnson in points and all a threat to win in the next 4 races. With his record the past year, Johnson needs to concentrate on maximizing his points and not who is giving him racing room.
Enjoy the next few races, they should be a doozy.
(Featured image courtesy of NASCAR Media)