Race in Fontana could get heated
NASCAR could not have scripted it better.
A rivalry has erupted between stock-car racing’s two hottest drivers as the Sprint Cup Series arrives in Southern California for the Pepsi 500 in Fontana on Sunday.
In one corner is Kyle Busch, the 23-year-old whose cocky, aggressive manner and series-high eight wins this season have made the Las Vegas native the driver many NASCAR fans love to hate.
In the other is Carl Edwards, 29, a cheerful Missourian who earned his sixth win Saturday night after bumping Busch out of the lead in the closing stages of the race in Bristol, Tenn.
An angry Busch then turned his No. 18 Toyota into Edwards’ No. 99 Ford on the cool-down lap, Edwards retaliated by spinning out Busch and the Bristol crowd roared its approval of Edwards’ payback.
Then Busch chastised Edwards’ bumping maneuver in post-race interviews, and Edwards shot back that he was not about to apologize because Busch had pulled the same move on him earlier in the year.
Sports-talk shows and Internet chat rooms lit up as fans nationwide dissected the latest in a long history of driver rivalries in NASCAR, especially with the series about to start its late-season championship playoff.
And the rivalry resumes at a track Busch and Edwards know well -- the Auto Club Speedway, a fast, two-mile oval that stages two Cup races a year, one on Labor Day weekend and one in late February.
Busch scored his first series win there as a rookie in 2005. Edwards, known for his victory back flips off his Roush Fenway Racing car, won the most recent race in Fontana, in February.
Busch and Edwards are 1-2 in the standings, respectively, with only two races left before NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title run.
The top 12 drivers in points after the Sept. 6 race in Richmond, Va., will vie for the championship during the final 10 races.
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson said Tuesday that the Busch-Edwards spat should surprise no one.
“Everybody that has a shot at this [title] is going to find ways to motivate themselves and [find] areas they can potentially play mind games in, or be out on the track and try to intimidate someone,” Johnson said.
He also said Edwards’ maneuver at Bristol was not unusual.
“It’s just competitive racing,” Johnson said. “If you look at what Carl did, it was a pretty smooth bump-and-run to get him out of the way, and something you typically see at Bristol.”
Reed Sorenson, who drives the No. 41 Dodge for the team of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, says he plans to join Gillett Evernham Motorsports next year.
Sorenson, who has yet to win a Cup race, said he did not know who might replace him at Ganassi.
One candidate is Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who moved to Ganassi’s NASCAR team this season to drive the No. 40 car. But Ganassi shut down that team last month because of a lack of sponsorship.
NASCAR plans to change the format of the Budweiser Shootout, a non-points sprint that kicks off the season at Daytona International Speedway, starting next year.
The race will now include the top six cars from each manufacturer in the series -- Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota -- based on the final 2008 car-owner points. Previously, the field included pole-sitters from the previous year and previous Shootout winners.
The race will have two segments, 25 laps and then 50 laps, separated with a 10-minute pit stop.