RICHMOND, Va. — There’s been a lot of discussion this season about Kyle Busch and if he’s finally matured enough to win his first Sprint Cup championship.
Perhaps that scrutiny should instead be directed toward his older brother, Kurt.
The Busch brothers advanced Saturday night into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kyle will begin the 10-race series Sunday at Chicago ranked first in the Chase standings and tied with rival Kevin Harvick for the points lead.
Kurt, meanwhile, starts the Chase ranked seventh in the standings and nine points behind his little brother. But the prospect of him being able to win a second title seemed slim after yet another run-in with Jimmie Johnson proved Busch struggles to control his anger – especially when it comes to the five-time defending champion.
Their latest dustup began before the halfway point of Saturday night’s race when contact sent Johnson sailing into the wall. The contact didn’t appear to be deliberate, but because of the tension between the two, Johnson retaliated 56 laps later.
Initially, Busch seemed to take delight in Johnson’s reciprocation and seemed rather pleased when he yelled “I’ve got your number!” over his team radio.
But his mood soured quickly after his fifth-place run. Busch referred to Johnson as a “five-time chump,” boasted he was “in (Johnson’s) head” and intimated it’s been equipment – not talent – that’s led to all of Johnson’s success.
“He’s got to learn how to race,” Busch said. “He’s been able to beat the guys the last five years by outdriving them with what he has for equipment. If he wants to switch equipment, let’s see what we can do. I’m going to beat him fair and square with my Penske Dodge.”
Johnson seemed to laugh when told of Busch’s remarks.
“I’m sure I’ll go find him and talk to him and he’ll run his mouth and we’ll go from there,” he said.
One of Johnson’s strengths the past five years has been an ability to ignore the competition and focus on his own program. His refusal to play mind games has been the greatest mind game of all, and it’s resulted in his five consecutive titles.
It seemed that Kyle Busch had adopted the attitude this year, and his refusal to be manipulated by taunts from rival Harvick had been noted as a new strength that could perhaps carry him to the title.
Kurt Busch did a good job of staying above the fray in 2004, when he won the inaugural Chase by beating Johnson by eight points for his only NASCAR championship. It’s been up and down since then, and he’s certainly been handcuffed at times by the Penske Racing equipment.
But all things appear to be equal right now, and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski had a marvelous summer to develop into both a title contender and a media darling. Busch, who opened August with back-to-back crashes, is running well again and goes into the Chase with consecutive top-five finishes.
Still, the question was raised, by Busch’s very own words and actions, if he can keep his composure over the next 10 weeks.
“If you guys can really figure it out, you can figure out what to write,” he said. “But to me, when guys are out there racing, we’re racing. That’s what we’re supposed to be writing about.”