Bristol Motor Speedway provided a delightful stage for plenty of drama on Saturday night.
The only thing missing — other than 500 laps of side-by-side action — was the postrace confrontation between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.
Does anyone really believe that Stewart released all his anger when he thrust his helmet onto Kenseth’s hood or that either champion calmed down 168 laps after their synchronized spin on the frontstretch?
We’re not certain that Stewart’s sidelined threat of “I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now ‘til the end of the year, every chance I’ve got . . .” was delivered to Kenseth during the race, but he certainly received the message after.
However, Kenseth already has endured his share of being run over by Stewart this year — at Sonoma in June and last month at Indianapolis. Kenseth attempted to reach out to his fellow driver after the Sonoma incident, but Stewart came at the No. 17 Ford again at Indy. But Bristol was over the top, even for Stewart.
“I was running the top leading and he got a run, and he went into Turn 1 like I wasn’t there and just went straight to the fence,” Kenseth said. “If I wouldn’t have lifted, like he chose not to do the next corner, we would have wrecked, so I let him have it and I got a run back, drove all the way alongside of him and we just kept going. I mean, I lifted down there or else we would have wrecked, and he chose not to lift and wrecked us both, so I don’t know.
“He’s already had two in this series he’s pretty much taken us out of, and I told him after Indy I was gonna race him the way he raced me. And I did the exact same thing down there that he did down there — the exact same thing, except he didn’t give it to me. I guess he just wanted to do all the taking, so that’s where we ended up.”
Although Kenseth has tremendous respect for Stewart — and even referred to him as “probably the greatest driver in the garage” — Stewart’s aggression Saturday night simply left Kenseth “a little confused.”
“I don’t really have anything bad to say about Tony,” Kenseth added. “On the racetrack for years and years and years, we’ve had tons of respect for each other, and, for whatever reason this year, he ran me off the track at Sears Point and said he was sorry. It cost me seven spots in the finishing order, and at Indy he was mad because he said I blocked him and I asked for five minutes of his time to clear the air and he wouldn’t give it to me and pretty much just got cussed out and knocked my whole side off and put us in position to get wrecked.
“So I just said, ‘OK, that’s fine. I’m just gonna race you the same way you race me,’ and he showed me how he was gonna race me down there, so I just did the same thing on the other end. So I don’t know. If you look at it we did the exact same thing, it’s just that he didn’t lift, so I don’t really see where that’s 100 percent my fault or problem.”
Stewart’s transporter was parked just a couple of spots away from Kenseth’s, but the two didn’t discuss the most recent run-in on Saturday night. For ratings sake, let’s hope this feud festers until Richmond — the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Then we’ll see if Stewart delivers on his promise or if he was just blowing "Smoke."
Here are 10 driver’s tales to ponder in the weeks ahead:
1. Welcome addition
Yes, Kenseth could fit in just about anywhere — well, maybe not with Stewart-Haas Racing any time soon. But at Joe Gibbs Racing, the 2003 NASCAR champ can serve as a mentor, among other things, to next year’s teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Kenseth, 40, will also be instrumental in developing the 2013 Toyota. A formal announcement should come in the next 10 days.
2. Keep the progress rolling
Expect news of Martin Truex Jr.’s extension with Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend in Atlanta — home to NAPA, which has enjoyed a relationship with Michael Waltrip since 2001. Truex is having a breakout season. He is fifth in the points standings and should qualify easily for his second Chase for the Sprint Cup.
3. Here’s Joey
Team owner Roger Penske said at Michigan that Joey Logano had to be released from his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing before a deal could be contemplated. On Saturday at Bristol, JGR President J.D. Gibbs said he respected what Penske Racing was trying to accomplish, but that JGR is still hoping to put a plan together that would suit their protégé. If this deal gets done with Penske Racing, it will happen before the Chase begins at Chicagoland.
4. A sticky wicket
There is not another free agent as talented as Kurt Busch. The former Cup champion has bided his time with Phoenix Racing this season, as patiently as he could. However, since Busch has driven nothing but top-of-the-line equipment in his career, the tendency this season has been to overdrive the equipment in order to compensate. Yes, there’s been plenty of twisted sheet metal to contend with and if team owner James Finch had an extensive fabrication shop, that wouldn’t be a problem. But he doesn’t. And the answer won’t be bringing in a buy-ride next year with Brian Scott. As for Busch, he has met with several owners — two of whom were potential Dodge teams before the manufacturer elected not to return next year. Certainly, Furniture Row would still welcome Busch. He also has spoken to principals at Richard Petty Motorsports. However, Busch’s best option to get his career back on track would be with Richard Childress Racing, if sponsorship can be secured.
5. Game changer
Most drivers have accepted the economic realities facing the sport and their compensation is reflective of that. However, it appears the holdup in Ryan Newman’s renewal with Stewart-Haas Racing is strictly financial. Sponsor US Army will not be returning in 2013 and to continue the stout salary Newman collected over the past four years simply isn’t feasible. Yes, SHR told Newman to test the waters. What he likely found out was his recent resume of three wins and two Chase appearances in four seasons is not worth what it once was. At this late point in the season, he should take SHR’s one-year offer and ride it out.
6. Why is no one talking about . . .
Marcos Ambrose? In the past 39 events, he has won two races. Kevin Harvick can’t say that. Neither can Carl Edwards, Logano or Truex Jr. In the past 10 races, Ambrose has earned two poles, one win, three top fives and six top-10 finishes. RPM would be foolish not to re-sign Ambrose. Considering his relationship with Ford, it’s surprising that Penske Racing didn’t make a run after the Aussie.
7. Paid his penance
If there were a bad boy in 2011, it was Brian Vickers. But in his limited seat time with MWR, Vickers has posted three top-five finishes in six starts in the No. 55 Toyota. It’s uncertain what his performance could have been at Watkins Glen since his engine expired before he completed the first lap. While Mark Martin will be reprising his role at MWR in 2013 for 22 races, Vickers has been offered the balance. Stewart probably won’t be calling Vickers any time soon, but other owners should be.
8. The waiting game
Regan Smith has been looking over his shoulder all season waiting for Kurt Busch to jump into his seat at Furniture Row. Rather than worrying about his ride, his best defense would have been to get up on the wheel. After earning his first career win at Darlington Raceway last year, Smith dug quite the hole this season. Crew chief Todd Berrier’s arrival five weeks ago produced immediate results. Smith has qualified in the top 15 in four of the past five races and posted two top-10 finishes but remains outside of the top 20 in the points standings. A teammate could expedite this organization’s progress if sponsorship can be found.
9. The back 40
For teams on the opposite side of the garage from the Chase contenders, the atmosphere isn’t quite as rosy. Teams don’t smile nearly as much. They don’t have time. There aren’t as many people to perform the required tasks on any given race weekend. Consequently, for the non-start-and-park competitors, there’s still the hope for reaching or returning to the front of the garage. Certainly, that’s the case for David Ragan. Just more than a year ago, he posted his first career Cup win at Roush Fenway Racing. This season, with two engine failures and crashes in both Daytona races, Ragan’s presence on highlight reels has been limited to incidents such as Saturday night, when his Glory Foods Ford appeared fried. Ragan finished 32nd after repairs, but remains 29th in the points standings. It would be nice to see Ragan, at age 26, get a second chance. While it likely won’t be with the top three organizations, there has to be a happy medium.
10. Double duty
Trevor Bayne’s name was mentioned as a possibility for the No. 22 Penske Racing ride even before AJ Allmendinger tested positive for amphetamine from a test sample taken at Kentucky. However, team owner Jack Roush, to whom Bayne remains under contract, has different plans. Bayne inherits the No. 6 Ford ride in the Nationwide Series from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013. He also has the option to continue his part-time Sprint Cup activities with Wood Brothers Racing, although that deal could expand if sponsorship can be secured. At 21, there’s still plenty of blue sky ahead for the 2011 Daytona 500 victor.