Thanks to an awkward moment in a Detroit steakhouse, Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch are now friends.
The two spent three years hating and hitting each other.
Those included Spencer being suspended for a race in 2003 after punching Busch in the nose. But those hard feelings have been replaced by mutual respect. Neither backed down; they simply decided to move on.
What prompted the peace accord was a dinner in 2005. Greg Biffle invited Busch to dinner; a reporter asked Spencer. When everyone sat down, the tension was overwhelming.
“I don’t think either of us expected it,” Spencer said. “We made small talk at first, but by the end of dinner we were all friends. Other people walked by the table and stared at us. A lot of them did a double-take. They couldn’t believe we could be in the same room, much less having dinner with each other.
“It took a lot of guts to invite both of us to dinner, but now Kurt and I don’t have any problems at all.”
Drivers sometimes have to share a ride in the back of a car or truck during pre-race parade laps. For drivers who are angry at each other, it doesn’t offer a lot of room for escape.
Very few arguments linger for months, much less years. Busch and Spencer set the gold standard for drivers who genuinely disliked each other. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have been battling for years, and Harvick openly admits to not liking Kurt’s younger brother. Harvick is also not interested in resolving his issues.
Most drivers know if they race long enough, they’re eventually going to have a problem.
Some send text messages early in the week to work things out. Others make phone calls.
Some let the differences simmer.
“You smile if you’re doing a parade lap with them, but in the back of your mind, you just know one of these days I’m going to get that guy back,” Joe Nemechek said.
Two years ago Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin rode together during pre-race ceremonies at Homestead-Miami Speedway. While they didn’t have problems, they were fighting for the title.
“Those trips are just tough,” Johnson said. “Man, that’s a long five minutes around the race track. I’m a friendly guy by nature, so I’m sitting there trying to have my competitive mind-set and it’s not very comfortable, to say the least.”