FONTANA, Calif. --- Their spots in the Chase for the Championship already secured, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards can go after a win -- and each other -- in tonight's Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway.
No matter what happens in the final two races before the Chase, Busch will start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed; Edwards is No. 2. Wins prior to the Chase are worth 10-point bonuses, so there's no real difference between finishing second or last.
Right now, Busch would start the Chase with a 30-point advantage over Edwards, who won last week's race at Bristol, Tenn., after knocking Busch out of the way with 30 laps left. After the race, Busch ran into Edwards; Edwards retaliated by spinning out Busch. Both then were placed on probation for the next six races.
"I think we've been having a good time with it," Edwards said while preparing for the 250-mile race in Southern California. "I don't worry about being on probation. I just have to try a little extra careful not to let my emotions get the best of me.
"I still feel pretty good about the way things went down last week."
Probation is an ambiguous penalty in NASCAR, because the rule book doesn't define guidelines or sanctions for behavior. If the two continue to take out their frustration on each other in the next six races, it would be up to NASCAR to determine whether it breaks the probation. And after that, it would be up to the sanctioning body to issue further penalties.
"I don't think it means that if you get into another driver and spin him out then you're going to get suspended for a race," Busch said. "I think it has to do with the way that you got put on probation, which is if you do the same thing that you did again, then the repercussions for it are going to go up."
While Busch and Edwards don't appear to be taking the probation seriously, everyone else is having fun with it. Two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who will start on the pole tonight after qualifying his Chevrolet at 180.397 mph, said he's amused by the attention the sport's newest rivalry has gained.
At the same time, he said he doesn't think they will hurt their chances in the Chase by doing anything stupid.
"I don't know exactly how to explain it: Carl's like the good guy; Kyle would be the bad guy," Johnson said. "Two totally different personalities, but I think the fans respect what they are on the track and what they're doing."
Johnson can lock up his berth in the playoffs by finishing no worse than 40th tonight. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who starts 18th, has the same scenario.
Busch said his main focus is stockpiling bonus points heading into the Chase.
"The points is the biggest difference," he said. "You just try to get as many points as you can, so you have a bigger head start."
As for he and Edwards: "We're friends man; we're best friends. I don't believe it's a rivalry. I believe that we can still be friends and stuff like that and have that relationship on the racetrack."
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.
REED SAXON/ASSOCIATED PRESS Kyle Busch, top, downplayed the newfound rivalry between himself and Carl Edwards, bottom. While both drivers battle on the racetrack, Busch said, they are the best of friends off of it.