WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Busch pulled himself out of his No. 18 Toyota, wiped off his forehead and ran his fingers through his soaked hair with a final demonstrative flick.
For the second time this season, he was marching with purpose toward a Team Penske driver whom he felt had wronged him during a race. As Busch drew within 20 yards of the No. 2 Ford, Brad Keselowski’s PR rep sprinted past on the left.
But unlike five months ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver took a swing at Joey Logano’s back, Busch then made a hard right to AJ Allemendinger, exchanging a handshake, smile and a few friendly gestures before laughing and moving on again.
“You mean there’s a story?” Busch sarcastically asked a group of reporters converging as he made a beeline from the pit lane to the garage. “What’s the story?”
Seemed as if you were about to make an impressive comeback until that contact with Brad Keselowski?
“Imagine that,” Busch replied while never breaking stride.
A few minutes later, Keselowski smiled when asked if he thought Busch was headed his way (“Wasn’t a lot of thought put into that. I’m still just cooling off.”) and got philosophical while reflecting on their history at Watkins Glen International.
“This is a track where you fight for inches,” Keselowski said, “and we both probably aren’t willing to give one.”
The best rivalry in NASCAR added another chapter in a familiar place at the 2.45-mile road course, where Busch and Keselowski staged a memorable last-lap fight for the lead in 2012 (with Busch spinning out) and dueled again for a victory in ’13.
It happened at the race’s midpoint Sunday.
On Lap 45 of 90, Busch dove for seventh entering the inner loop, catching Keselowski off guard. The pair made contact and spun off course, sending both to the pits and Busch to the mic button on his radio.
“You all better keep me away from that (expletive) after this race,” Busch told his team. “I will kill that (expletive).”
After the race, he withheld judgment when asked what happened.
“Couldn’t tell you,” he said. “Hadn’t seen it.”
Busch was charging through the field after an extra pit stop for a loose wheel after winning the first stage. After winning Saturday’s Xfinity race from the pole despite a spin, he appeared set to repeat the feat Sunday.
Starting from the pole position for the second consecutive Cup race, he led the first 21 laps. He seemed a good bet for his second consecutive win (after breaking a yearlong winless drought at Pocono Raceway).
“Yep,” Busch, who finished seventh, said in his final answer to reporters.
Keselowski simply said he didn’t have enough warning with Allmendinger behind his car as Busch made his daring move.
“I got to the corner, and my spotter said, ‘Somebody there,’” said Keselowski, who later led 20 laps but was 15th after a late stop for fuel and a pit penalty. “But I’d already got to the corner, and by then, I was already committed, and I think he was already committed, too. It looked like he tried to make a big move from a couple of car lengths back, and it was more than what there was room for all of us.
“It probably didn’t help either one of us. It was a bummer. … I wasn’t looking to get into him, and I don’t think he was looking to get into me. He probably had the dominant car, so he didn’t need any trouble, but neither did I.”
Sounds like there might be some common ground for two champions who have feuded more often than any stars (the Xfinity race at Michigan International Speedway was another recent flashpoint).
Any plans to hash things out soon?
“I don’t think he’s really the listening type,” Keselowski said with a smile. “Pretty doubtful.”