Drivers downplay rivalry
After being put on probation for banging their cars into each other after last week’s NASCAR race, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards arrived in Southern California downplaying any strife between them.
“I don’t believe it’s a rivalry,” Busch said Friday in advance of the Pepsi 500 on Sunday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
“We’re friends, man,” Busch said sardonically. “I might text him later and we’ll go get some In-N-Out burger. No, wait, [Edwards] doesn’t eat that stuff probably. I don’t know, maybe salads.”
But several other drivers welcomed the rivalry -- despite Busch’s comments -- and the attendant buzz it’s generated for stock-car racing’s Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s going to make [the race] interesting, going to make it good for the fans, and I’m a fan and I’m going to enjoy watching what they do between each other,” said Kasey Kahne, who won this race two years ago.
Two Californians swept the front row in qualifying Friday at the two-mile oval. Jimmie Johnson, a two-time Fontana winner and the reigning Cup champion, won the pole in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with a lap of 180.397 mph. A.J. Allmendinger was second at 179.659 mph in a Red Bull Toyota.
Busch, who qualified 11th in the 43-car field, leads the Cup standings this season with eight wins. Edwards is second in points with six victories, including last Saturday’s win at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
In the closing stages of that race, Edwards bumped Busch out of the lead to take the checkered flag. Busch responded by bumping into Edwards on the cool-down lap and Edwards immediately retaliated by slamming into Busch.
NASCAR put both on probation for the next six races.
Edwards, who starts 26th Sunday, said the controversy “doesn’t matter, we’re here to race and the racing’s been pretty good.
“All this stuff this week, I kind of just got a chuckle out of it because I know deep down what he says doesn’t matter to me and what I say doesn’t really matter to him,” Edwards said. “What really matters is we race well on the race track. I say we’ll be fine.”
Busch, when asked what probation meant to him, said it “means you can’t do anything like you did last week again. [NASCAR] did what they thought was right.”
Edwards said he was “not worried about being on probation. I just have to be a little extra careful not to let my emotions get the best of me. It will be good practice.”
After the Bristol race, Edwards said he had been the victim of a similar bumping move by Busch earlier in the year. The aggressive Busch also was criticized in May after he collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr. just as NASCAR’s most popular driver was about to win in Richmond, Va.
“People always say that all I’m doing out there is running into people. . . . I’m telling you, I’m not out there to try to move anybody,” Busch said.
Regardless, Earnhardt said the Busch-Edwards feud was the latest in a long history of driver rivalries that have helped NASCAR grow, one he and other drivers enjoy watching.
“We like it, laugh at it, pick and choose our favorites,” Earnhardt said. “But the fans totally eat it up and that’s why we need more of it.”