Monday, August 08, 2011

Jimmie Johnson Mad at Kurt Busch ... Why?

Usually, NASCAR drivers have a tendency to get a bit testy during and after short-track races.

When they go to a place like Pocono -- a 2.5-mile track with plenty of room for guys to stay away from each other -- the nerves are often not as frayed, unless an engine blows up or a tire goes down at a really bad time.

Sunday was an exception to this general rule.

At Pocono Raceway, while Brad Keselowski was pulling off an amazing win while driving with a broken ankle, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson had a rather interesting run-in.

On the final laps, Johnson was battling with Busch for a top three-position when they nudged each other a couple times. Busch ended up keeping his spot and finishing third, behind brother Kyle and winner Keselowski. Johnson had to settle for fourth -- not bad since he drove the whole race with a bad clutch.

Afterward, Johnson confronted Busch on pit road, and the two exchanged words. They then shared thoughts on their feud to reporters.

"I worked him over for ten to 15 laps and had the opportunity to screw him over, and I didn't do it," Johnson told ESPN immediately after the confrontation. "I'm not going to run people over to pass them. It's not me."

"I was racing him flat out," Busch said in his own interview. "I didn't know you were supposed to pull over with five to go. We were racing clean, and he wants to come over and bitch at me?"

... in this case, he (Busch) might have a point. "Why can't we race each other and put on a show for the fans?" he said, the implication being that in real racing, paint must be traded and dents must be issued. Johnson has won five Cup titles by practicing a form of racing that's clinical in its devotion to efficiency. But it's in no way dirty, in the Busch brothers/Kevin Harvick/Tony Stewart make-room-if-there-ain't-room sense of the word.

So Johnson has had plenty of success with his style. But he hasn't exactly won over the hearts of NASCAR fandom with it;  Busch certainly echoed the sentiments of a large chunk of NASCAR fandom when he later said that he wanted "anyone but the 48" to win the race.

I watched the end of the race Sunday night. I have no idea what either driver did wrong.

I'm not a fan of Johnson's, though it's generally not his fault. He isn't my favorite driver, and he wins all the time. That's enough right there to generate some dislike.

However, it's hard to argue with his methods.

That said, he's barking up an empty tree on this one. Busch didn't do anything but race a guy hard for a spot. He probably said it best when he asked if he's just supposed to pull over. Is that the case? Is Johnson so spoiled by the respect he gets from other drivers -- teammates or not -- that he can't fathom someone actually making him earn the position he's racing for?

If Johnson's brand of NASCAR is one where Kurt Busch is perceived to have done some wrong in the final laps Sunday, then I want no part of Johnson's brand of NASCAR.

I'd rather have two guys trade paint and rubs for 10-15 laps and actually fight like they care about a spot. Obviously, we don't need people getting dumped over a spot in a race. That's dangerous and unnecessary. But Busch didn't dump Johnson. Not anything remotely close to that. Instead, they raced hard and clean for a position, and Johnson either has a warped vision of what this sport should be like, or he's pissed because he couldn't beat the 22.

You take your pick on that one. I'm not here to judge.

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