Busch, Keselowski Give Birth to New Rivalry
There were two winners Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
The first was Kurt Busch, who snapped an 83-race winless streak and completed a long climb back to victory lane after losing his top-flight ride with Team Penske at the end of 2011.
The second was NASCAR, which not only continued its string of highly entertaining races — Martinsville featured a track-record 33 lead changes — but might have gotten a new rivalry in the process.
Busch's victory came despite a run-in with former Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who believed Busch drove through him during an early traffic jam on pit road as Keselowski tried to give Kasey Kahne room to pit. Keselowski then retaliated with his car — missing its hood after a 30-lap repair -- by roughing up Busch's car on the track. Keselowski spared him the kind of damage that would have taken away Busch's shot at the win.
So as Busch was shown celebrating in his No. 41 Chevrolet and getting congratulations from teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart on Martinsville's big screen, Keselowski stood in the garage and fumed.
"He does awesome things for charity and he's probably the most talented race car driver," Keselowski said. "He's also one of the dumbest."
In the media center, Busch called Keselowski's attempted retaliation a "punk-ass move."
"He will get back what he gets back when I decide to give it back," Busch said.
Though no driver wants to be involved in a rivalry, NASCAR execs are likely high-fiving. In the offseason, the sport changed its championship format after growing tired of seeing overly friendly competitors settle for good points days instead of go all-out for the win. And if that wasn't the truth, it was at least the perception.
The 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup was marked by a close competition but hardly a rivalry; Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth fought for the title but texted each other during the weekends and even had their daughters play together on race days.
Keselowski and Busch respect each other, but they're also the kind of drivers who don't take any bull —from anyone. Former teammates or not, there's no chance Keselowski will back down when he feels his team is being taken advantage of. And when Busch feels wronged, he's not the kind of driver who will let any perceived disrespect go unpunished.
NASCAR had a promising rivalry last year when Denny Hamlin feuded with Keselowski teammate Joey Logano, but it ended at its most feverish point — when the two wrecked on the final lap in Fontana, Calif., sending Hamlin to the hospital with a broken back. When Hamlin returned five races later, he was too focused on making the Chase to pay Logano much mind.