BRISTOL, Tenn._ After getting beat by Jimmie Johnson at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this year, Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch claimed he would have rather been beat by any of the other 41 cars in the field other than the No. 48.
Over the last two seasons, Johnson and Busch have developed a rivalry on that track by racing hard, usually at the front of the field. Unfortunately for Busch, that has led to wrecked race cars and disappointing finishes.
With both drivers coming into the Food City 500 at Bristol in the top-12 in points, with a fairly comfortable cushion over 12th place Clint Bowyer, there is no telling what can happen under the lights on a short track Saturday night.
The rivalry between these two champions seemed to develop last season when Johnson got into Busch at Sonoma, wrecking the No. 2 into the tire barriers. Johnson went on to finish fourth, while Busch wound up 15th.
Since that incident, Busch and Johnson seem as if they cannot get away from each other. During the spring race at Bristol, the pair battled back and forth for the lead, with Johnson getting the advantage on a late race restart. Finishing third, Busch was more than disappointed, saying he poured his heart out trying to beat Johnson in the end.
Racing for the lead late in the race in New Hampshire in June, Busch drove into the corner, gave the No. 48 a shot in the quarter panel and moved him up the track to take the lead. With three laps to go, Johnson caught Busch and paid him back in the same spot with the same move. Johnson took the win, while Busch fell to third.
At Pocono three races ago, Busch was racing with Clint Bowyer down the Long Pond straightaway when Johnson got a run and gave the No. 2 car a shot in the back bumper. What Johnson hoped to be a bump-draft turned Busch’s car into the outside wall hard, tearing up another race car and ruining Busch’s day.
Talking with the media after the incident, Busch was short and to the point when asked what happened, “Got wrecked on the straightaway. Jimmie Johnson drove straight through us.”
On the losing end of this rivalry since the beginning, Busch summed it up the following week at Watkins Glen by saying what goes around will eventually come around.
“I’ve been wrecked by Johnson quite a bit in the last couple seasons, the last 13 months,” Busch said. “Whether it was racing or whether it was just a small bump he didn’t intend to mean what he did. He didn’t intentionally try to wreck us at Pocono, but it ended up that way. So, there might be some of that coming from my side of it. I might not intentionally try to wreck him, but we’ve got a high car count of wrecked cars over at our shop and those guys on the 48, and even Jeff Gordon with what he did at Sonoma, it’s been definitely a one way street right now.”
“I hate that over the last year or two there have been a lot of those racing incidents, and he has definitely been on the losing deal of those racing incidents,” Johnson said following their incident in Pocono. “It is nothing intentional, nothing I have against him.”
Now at a track notorious for paybacks and bump-and-runs, Busch’s payback may just come Saturday night. Johnson admitted that if it comes down to the closing laps and he sees the No. 2 Dodge in his rear view mirror, he knows the bump-and-run is coming.
“I think that’s why I was so shocked at New Hampshire that I got the bump-and-run from him because we had raced for nine years and I hadn’t seen the bump and run from him. I was shocked to see it take place,” Busch said. “With that in mind; at Bristol, I know the bump and run could be coming from the 2. I know it would come from a lot of other drivers as well, so it’s not just singling him out. It’s short-track racing; the rules kind of change a little bit on these track.”
Busch, on the other hand, downplayed the rivalry simply saying everything would be determined by circumstances, not personal intentions.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Busch said of how he would race Johnson late in the going. “When a second-place car catches a leader, it’s because the second-place car is faster. With the way that the groove is here, the outside groove is the preferred groove. You’ll have to see where he’s running. He might be slow in Turn 2 and that might be our best corner. You always have to adjust because every circumstance is different. You really just can’t go out there and have a mindset of, ‘I’ve got to do this’. You have to go out there with the mindset of adjusting to Bristol and racing this race track because things happen in a thousandth of a second.”
While he may be avoiding controversy before taking to the track under race conditions, Busch has made it clear over the last few weeks that he feels Johnson owes him a few wrecked race cars. Both drivers go into Saturday night’s race with more than 200 points between them and the final cut off for the Chase, so with little to lose, tonight may just be the night Busch gets his revenge and this rivalry heats up even more.
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