|Losing cool hurts Kurt Busch's championship drive|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 11 September 2011 11:55|
Perhaps that scrutiny should instead be directed toward his older brother, Kurt.
The Busch Brothers advanced Saturday night into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kyle will begin the 10-race series Sunday at Chicago ranked first in the Chase standings and tied with rival Kevin Harvick for the points lead.
Kurt, meanwhile, starts the Chase ranked seventh in the standings and nine points behind his little brother. But the prospect of him being able to win a second title seemed slim after yet another run-in with Jimmie Johnson proved Busch struggles to control his anger - especially when it comes to the five-time defending champion.
Their latest dustup began before the halfway point of Saturday night's race when contact sent Johnson sailing into the wall. The contact didn't appear to be deliberate, but because of the tension between the two, Johnson retaliated 56 laps later.
Initially, Busch seemed to take delight in Johnson's reciprocation and seemed rather pleased when he yelled ``I've got your number!'' over his team radio.
But his mood soured quickly after his fifth-place run. Busch referred to Johnson as a ``five-time chump,'' boasted he was ``in (Johnson's) head'' and intimated it's been equipment - not talent - that's led to all of Johnson's success.
``He's got to learn how to race,'' Busch said. ``He's been able to beat the guys the last five years by outdriving them with what he has for equipment. If he wants to switch equipment, let's see what we can do. I'm going to beat him fair and square with my Penske Dodge.''
Johnson seemed to laugh when told of Busch's remarks.
``I'm sure I'll go find him and talk to him and he'll run his mouth and we'll go from there,'' he said.
The two indeed did talk after the race. But somewhere in the hourlong post-race celebration, Busch lost his composure. He argued with a reporter on pit road who asked about the incident with Johnson, then renewed the discussion more than 30 minutes later in the media center until a NASCAR official ordered him to take a seat at the podium.
It was already tense, and only heightened when Johnson entered the room and sat down at the opposite end of the stage. And when Johnson was asked about Busch's claim of being in his head, Busch denied ever making the remark - even though he said it during a live national telecast.
When shown the transcript provided by team manufacturer Dodge, Busch tore the paper in half.
All the while, younger brother Kyle sat quiet with a look of total disinterest. He at one point shrugged his shoulders, and in another moment appeared to have stuck his fingers in his ears.
Johnson, meanwhile, continued to give a smile that suggested he knew exactly who was in who's head.
``The incidents that have happened have been accidental. He knows that,'' Johnson said. ``Moving forward, I'm just not going to let people run our race car over. There's been a lot of contact going on, and that's why I retaliated. It was a good time to do it. Moving forward, I think we've raced together the last two weeks, three weeks and been just fine on the racetrack.
``We can do it. It can be done. We had eight, nine years before that where everything was fine. It's possible, and I think it's in both of our best interests to get it behind us and go forward.''
Johnson can do it, and one of his strengths the last five years has been an ability to ignore the competition and focus on his own program. His refusal to play mind games has been the greatest mind game of all, and it's resulted in his unprecedented five consecutive titles.
It seemed that Kyle Busch had adopted the attitude this year, and his refusal to be manipulated by taunts from rival Harvick had been noted as a new strength that could perhaps carry him to the title.
Kurt Busch did a good job of staying above the fray in 2004, when he won the inaugural Chase by beating Johnson by eight points for his only NASCAR championship. It's been up and down since then, and he's certainly been handcuffed at times by the Penske Racing equipment.
But all things appear to be equal right now, and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski had a marvelous summer to develop into both a title contender and a media darling. Busch, who opened August with back-to-back crashes, is running well again and goes into the Chase with consecutive top-five finishes.
Still, the question was raised, by Busch's very own words and actions, if he can keep his composure over the next 10 weeks. But probing questions, particularly about Johnson, were not welcome Saturday night.
``If you guys can really figure it out, you can figure out what to write,'' he said. ``But to me, when guys are out there racing, we're racing. That's what we're supposed to be writing about.''