FONTANA, Calif. — What rivalry?
Kyle Busch jokingly says Carl Edwards is his “bff,” texting shorthand for best friend forever. Edwards stopped short of such a commitment, but he did say, “I feel like we really have been good competitors.”
The two NASCAR Sprint Cup stars caused a sensation — and evoked images of great rivalries past — Saturday night at Bristol when Edwards nudged a dominating Busch aside to take the lead with 30 laps to go and the two then exchanged postrace bumps after Edwards won.
The fans at the Tennessee track ate up the action, hooting with glee. But the bumping prompted NASCAR to chastise the two drivers and later to put both of them on probation for six races.
Meanwhile, newspapers, Web sites and blogs were filled with stories about “the new rivalry.”
Lending credence is a championship battle that seems to be shaping up between the two. Busch, the hottest driver all season, is on top in points and with eight wins, while Edwards is second in the standings and closing in with six wins, including three in the last four races.
Although 12 drivers, including two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, will be in the 10-race Chase for the championship that begins after races this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway and next week at Richmond, it seems most everyone — except Busch and Edwards — expects those two to be the focus of the stock car postseason.
That would be just fine with both of them.
“It’s very cool to have our team running so well, to be on top of our game, and it’s really fun to have somebody like Kyle that’s so fast,” Edwards said Friday. “There have been a couple of races where it’s like either me or him, and I think that brings out the best in a lot of people.”
“For us, it’s been a lot of fun. Like I said, if it comes down to just him and I for the championship, that would be fine. But I have a feeling some of these other guys are gonna have something to say about that.”
Busch, who has finished second to Edwards the past two weeks after winning the previous race, said he knows there’s still some work to do if his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is going to hold off the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford for the title.
So, is there something specific Busch’s team needs to do to regain the edge?
“Besides that they have a little better race cars than us at sometimes, then no, not really,” the 23-year-old Busch said. “Yeah, they’ve caught up to us the past few weeks, but we finished second. It’s hard to put that into trying to become any better.
“There’s only one guy, I guess, that you’re trying to beat the past two races, but it’s that one guy that’s going to haunt you the rest of the year. All we can do is try to do our best and come up with some better packages to end the year out strong.”
A true rivalry usually arises between people or teams who don’t like each other. Both Busch and Edwards shrugged off any talk about dislike off the track, even after some negative comments by each after the Bristol race.
“We’re friends, man,” Busch said Friday. “I even joke around with guys with myself that Carl is ‘bff Carl.’ We’re best friends. I don’t believe it’s a rivalry. I believe that we can still be friends and stuff like that and have that relationship on the racetrack.”
A little later, the 29-year-old Edwards echoed his young competitor.
“When he’s won this year, I’ve congratulated him,” he said. “When I’ve won, he’s congratulated me, and that’s why all this stuff this week, I kind of just got a chuckle out of it because I know deep down that what he says doesn’t matter to me and what I say doesn’t really matter to him. What really matters is we race well on the racetrack, so I’d say that we’ll be fine.”
Both were asked what effect being on probation might have on them over the next six weeks.
“I don’t think it means that if you get into another driver and spin him out then you’re going to get suspended for a race,” Busch said, shrugging. “I think it has to do with the way that you got put on probation, which is if you do the same thing that you did again, then the repercussions for it are going to go up and that would probably be a suspension or something like that. (It means) keep your post race antics down to a minimum.”
Edwards said he doesn’t worry about being on probation.
“I just have to be a little extra careful not to let my emotions get the best of me,” he said. “It will be good practice, I think.”
Neither of the drivers believe they really did anything wrong at Bristol
“No, I don’t regret anything,” Edwards said. “I did what I felt was best at the time, and that’s fine. In the grand scheme of things, looking back on it, I don’t even think there was really anything that was that bad about last week. I thought it was just real good hard racing and what happened afterward is stuff that happens at every short track all around the country every week.
“The only bad part about it is just tearing up race cars when you don’t need to.”
Busch said things could certainly have escalated into a much worse situation.
“I could’ve very easily drove off into turn three and doored him right in the left-side quarter panel or something and spun him out,” Busch said. “I didn’t do that. I tried to race him clean. I tried to get back by him and I got bogged down a little bit by Denny (Hamlin), who got along side of me, and we raced for a little bit.
“I never laid a tire mark on (Hamlin) and got back by him and was just too late to try to run down Carl. I would’ve certainly liked to have tried to not touch him. … I’m not out there to try to move anybody.”