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Pedley: This Feud Has Crossover Potential

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 28 2010

Kyle Busch was still spewing sparks this week in his war of words with teammate Denny Hamlin. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Is this the one? Is this the spat that racing-feud fans have been waiting for since Dale Earnhardt vs. Geoff Bodine? Is this the one which even non fans of racing start to follow? The one which will spawn ad hoc websites and Apple apps?

Probably not. Too many shortsighted sponsors spending too much money involved in the sport to let a feud get interesting these days.

But Busch vs. Hamlin, the Queen City Clash, does have a kind of edge to it that has been missing from past spats du jour.

The feud which flared between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin on All-Star weekend in Charlotte after they crashed into each other late in the race, was pretty ugly.

The word “kill” was used and though it is inconceivable that Busch would literally want to take his teammate’s life, that is some serious word-spewing.

The drivers were brought together by master negotiator/paycheck signer Joe Gibbs and the experience-based guess here was that both would show up at Charlotte Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Coca-Cola saying the usual things.

You know: “I just want to win so badly that I say dumb things”; “As teammates, we are like family and family members sometimes squabble”; “That’s all in the past and this week we just want to talk about racing”.

Except that is not what happened.

"Until he puts it all together, that’s when he’ll become a champion. Right now he just doesn’t have himself all together.” – Denny Hamlin on Kyle Busch.

Reporters and fans hungering for more vitriol were treated to a Jerry Springer-like bounty.

From Hamlin, this tastiness:

Asked his thoughts about the incident, he said, “It’s pretty much the same. I feel like I definitely wouldn’t change anything that I would do and nobody in my position would.  I challenge anyone to be in that position and to change the way that I drove.  The thing is that he (Kyle Busch) was never there, there was never a hole for his car to fit in so he has a gas pedal and a brake just like I do.  He could choose to check up and pass me in the next corner or put his car in the fence like what happened.  That’s just part of it and I think he expected me to do that there and I just wasn’t willing to do it at that point.”

Asked if he could still work with Busch, he said, “I’m not going to put too much effort in it, to be honest with you.  Kyle (Busch) brings this stuff up himself and he gets mad at the media for asking him questions about his blow-ups and stuff, but he does it to himself.  I don’t want to be part of it, any drama that he wants to create or anything is on him.  Anything he says on the radio is on him.  All I’m going to say and I’m going to be done with it, each year I think Kyle’s going to grow out of it and he just doesn’t.  Until he puts it all together, that’s when he’ll become a champion.  Right now he just doesn’t have himself all together.”

From Busch, these morsels:

Asked if he and Hamlin were now cool, he said: “We’re going to work together and we’re going to work together in a couple hours or whenever practice starts.  Do I regret saying what I said over the radio?  Absolutely not.  It was the heat of the moment, that’s who I am, that’s my expression and I’m not going to be sorry for what I say.  I think it’s a freedom (figure) of speech and I was frustrated.  It was a saying that is said a lot and take it for what it’s worth, you can take it out of context and use it as seriously as you want.  It wasn’t joking, but it wasn’t going to happen, it wasn’t meant.”

Asked if they could work together, Busch said, “Yeah, I feel like we can move on and work together.  A little dissatisfied with his quote about how I would have done the same thing because you can’t put words in a person’s mouth and I don’t feel like I would have done the same thing.  I race with respect and I learned from Mark Martin and those guys.  I’ve had my bad points, but since learning from Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and those guys, I feel like I’ve gotten better and even though it is an All-Star race, like I said, I was surprised by the fact that happened.  I wouldn’t have expected it.  I don’t think I typically run myself into the fence.  I think it was just due to the nature of the race.”

Other drivers in the garages have taken notice of the “Rancor at JGR”.

Their views on the incident and the two drivers involved varied. In true NASCAR now fashion, there was more hedging than ripping. Though they did seem to choose up sides vis a vis the on-track portion of events.

Jeff Burton said, “Kyle is an aggressive driver and he runs hard every lap. Kyle, in my view, has never been a guy that wrecks other people.  Honestly, he puts himself in some situations where you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to come out of that.’ On restarts he’s real aggressive, but I’ve never felt that Kyle was a guy that I looked at and said, ‘that dude takes a lot of people out.’  There’s been a lot of guys that came in trying to be aggressive that have been taking more people out than Kyle ever did in my opinion. I really like racing with Kyle.”

Mark Martin, who Busch claims to admire and emulate, said: “I don’t have an ounce of problem and never have on the race track with Kyle. He is very aggressive, but he keeps it within his area. He is aggressive, but he keeps his stuff in his area. He’s never breached my space on the race track. I haven’t had a lot of conversation with Kyle, but he is incredibly respectful although he may have done some things and had some actions that may have turned some people off. He has also done some things and had some actions that are incredibly admirable. One of the things that comes to mind is what he did for Sam Ard, who he couldn’t know and that is just a good example and many many more. There is a lot more to these guys than what meets the eye.

Jimmie Johnson, who has feuded with his teammate, Jeff Gordon, this year, said, “I saw Denny being very aware of where the No. 18 car was from when we were committing to our lines on the straightaway going into Turn One, I saw some confusion, not confusion but Denny was trying to be in front of the No. 18 wherever he was to put him in a bad situation for air. And that’s what you do. When you come to the closing laps of a race, especially the All-Star race where there’s no points on the line and you’ve got to do anything and everything you can to stay in the lead and win the race. I don’t think there’s a lot of fault to put anywhere.”

Fault? No. But still plenty of life in this feud. Certainly more than the sport has seen in some time.

But feud’s are defined by how long they last and not just intensity. So, don’t expect to see that Battling Gibbsers app for quite some time.

If only Danica could some how get involved…

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 28 2010