Tensions heat up as NASCAR regular season heads into home stretch
BROOKLYN, Mich. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers are pushing limits on the track and pointing fingers off it as tensions rise with four races left before the playoffs.
Kyle Busch was summoned to the NASCAR hauler at Michigan International Speedway to talk with officials along with William Byron and Bubba Wallace after sparring with both drivers at Watkins Glen.
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said he had conversations with Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney about their on- and off-the-track feud that has lasted nearly a week. Miller said he didn’t attempt to bring Johnson and Blaney together to hash out their differences.
“I think they’re man enough to sort that one out between themselves,” Miller said in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday. “The other stuff with the other drivers kind of escalated a little bit to more retaliation.”
Brad Keselowski won the poll and will start Sunday in front of Kevin Harvick, Byron, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott in the Consumers Energy 400.
Aggressive driving always has been — and always will be — a part of auto racing because competitive drivers compete for every inch of track position at high speed with high stakes.
While it is rare in the series, NASCAR can suspend drivers.
“We’ve sat people down,” Miller said. “It’s a hard line to draw.”
NASCAR hasn’t done that for Cup races since suspending Matt Kenseth for two races in 2015 for wrecking Joey Logano in an act of retaliation that carried heavy championship consequences.
It doesn’t appear that any of the recent spats will lead to harsh penalties unless they escalate out of control.
Busch spun while racing for position against Byron. Later, Busch retaliated by knocking Byron into the grass. Byron’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, told the 21-year-old Byron not to be pushed around by Busch, and he responded by ramming into the back of the former series champion’s car.
In the same race, Wallace spun Busch. Later, they banged each other while racing before Wallace had the last tap, turning Busch around entering a turn.
The drama has generated extra attention, and it’s not necessarily bad publicity for a sport that craves it.
“If you draw a parallel to another sport, I don’t think the pitcher that throws at a batter’s head are friends,” Miller said. “It’s probably not a bad thing for the game that there’s a little bit of tension and a rivalry.”