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Jimmie Johnson fastest in warmups for Saturday's Dover 400 pole runs...and the latest on this 'Boys, have at it' | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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Jimmie Johnson fastest in warmups for Saturday's Dover 400 pole runs...and the latest on this 'Boys, have at it'

   Jimmie 'Mr. All-Business' Johnson: just loving the controversies his title rivals are stuck in (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   DOVER, Del.
   This Kevin Harvick versus Kyle Busch thing is really quite intriguing, because it's more than just any two NASCAR racers going at it hard.
   These are two of the best drivers in this sport.
    Either one could win this season's championship.
   But neither man looks to have a good chance at the moment unless they both come to terms.

   And that has to bring a smile to Jimmie Johnson's face: "At times, yes," the five-time Sprint Cup champ says.
    "I remember being here in the chase (early last fall) and watching Denny Hamlin and Harvick going at it…
    "But the championship implications haven't crossed my mind because it's so far from now….and things seem to get rectified in two to three weeks.
     "It was exciting seeing discussions about it in major newspapers and social media; it's been everywhere.
     "You hate to see somebody potentially injured -- and the stuff on pit road is really the sore spot. But it was exciting."
    Johnson was fastest Friday in practice for Sunday's Dover 400 -- 'the FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks' -- at 158.604 mph. That means he'll be the last one (aside from those who have to qualify on time) to make a qualifying run in Saturday's pole runs (noon ET). Johnson made his run in the first practice session; in the warmer weather of the second practice, teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski were the fastest, about a tenth of a second slower than Johnson.
     There is more at issue here than just that pit road post-race brouhaha at Darlington. There is also the sticky issue of 'Boys, have at it,' out on the track, and the potential dangers of that, seen rather vividly in the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski crashes last season, with barely wrist-slaps by NASCAR. And again seen at Homestead last fall when Harvick put Busch in the fence hard.
     These drivers may seem bulletproof in these cars….but as Jeff Gordon showed at Richmond, things can turn bad in a heartbeat.
     Are NASCAR officials, and drivers too, simply getting too complacent?

      Kyle Busch: Should he be wearing a white hat or black hat? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Johnson watches it all from a keen perspective: "We're all around the sport enough to know that it's real easy one week to say 'Oh, it's too 'vanilla' out there,' 'It's too boring, and these guys don't rough each other up, and back in the day this or that would happen.'
    "And then, damn if we don't go to the next race and all that happens and now you've got to write the opposite.
     "So I think we're all confused: What do we really want? Does anybody know? It changes every week.
     "Still, at the end of the day, our sport is stronger than it's ever been, we have more lead changes, more race winners…and I guess any press is good press."
    Boys, have at it?
    "I think we're all in a gray area," Johnson says. "In the past things have been done, penalties would equal suspension, potentially, and probation for sure.
    "Now we're in this gray area. And I think NASCAR is still trying to feel it out: There's a point where it's 'Have at it, boys,' and then there is crossing that line.
     "You would like some clarity. But I think as a group we're trying to understand what that really is.
    "We don't want a wreck-fest, or take the competitive spirit out of it. At the same time you can't have people in harm's way on pit road."
    But Johnson, known as one of coolest drivers in this sport, rarely rattled, says "I don't spend a lot of time in that space mentally, wondering 'if I really act like an idiot right now, am I going to get in trouble?'"

   Johnson, Harvick and others here may have questions about NASCAR's 'Boys, have at it' policy, but Busch says he understands it all quite clearly.
   And Busch, who is going into Friday afternoon's Truck race (4:45 pm ET start; tape-delayed on Speed for 8:30 p.m. broadcast) hoping to make a three-race sweep here this weekend at Dover International Speedway, "I understand it perfectly -- It's 'Boys, have at it' that happens out on the race track, and they allow us to police ourselves pretty simply out there. 
   "(But) when matters get taken into the drivers' hands on pit road, where innocent bystanders can be injured, NASCAR is going to step in and intervene, and they're going to set penalties the way that they feel need to be levied. 
    "To me it's not a gray area; it's pretty simple – it's black-and-white."
   However one thing that certainly isn't that clear is who should be wearing the black hat in this deal and who should be wearing the white hat.
   Was Darlington's hook a payback by Busch for Harvick's dump-and-run at Homestead last fall? Come to think of it, why didn't NASCAR step in there and fix things? Are NASCAR officials just deer-in-the-headlights in all this?
   What if a driver gets seriously injured in this 'boys, have at it' stuff? Maybe NASCAR executives should be heeding the warning signs.
   Busch, though, would just like to get the current flap behind him.
  And he says that Harvick's anger could be, Busch says flippantly, "Apparently he's watching too much hockey."
   And where was Busch's crew post-race, while Harvick's crew was charging down to confront Busch?
  "To be honest with you, I don't know if they were aware of the antics," Busch said. "I had already unplugged my radio."
   Busch's defense for hooking Harvick on the track was "I had a left-rear tire flat, and I wasn't sure that if I turned too hard to the right to stay off of him or to get away from him that the car would actually spin out the wrong way."
   Harvick dismissed that claim.
   To which Busch responded "Believe that for what it's worth. There are some in-car cameras….and I did have to come to pit road during that caution period to change left-side tires because they were flat."

   What is the deal, really, between Harvick and Busch?
   "As far as us getting along, I'm not sure we ever really did," Busch said. "I think he tried…and that's why at Homestead (last fall) I talked about the two faces of Kevin Harvick. He'll talk to your face like you're best friends, but then behind closed doors he has the utmost disrespectful thoughts."
   To Harvick's harsh charge that Busch is dealing in "lies," Busch says "I don't feel I'm lying about anything, because there are 85 cameras around the track that will pretty much simplify or backup anything you're saying. 
   "The only thing I will say -- I guess -- is that I'm sorry I came off of turn two on the flat, trying to give Kevin room, and maybe I slid a little too far, and I got into him first. 
    "Maybe that's what initiated everything. 
    "I apologize about that.  It wasn't my intentions to get into him and then have everything go down the way it went down.
    "Sometimes, as clean as you can, you might rub fenders with somebody. When it becomes from getting disrespected as bad as you have from one particular guy, at some point you finally say you've had enough. And I did stick up for myself on the track. 
    "I don't know it really means much difference when somebody spins you out from behind on the straightaway at Homestead going 170 mph into the inside wall and ended up in a ball of flames, or spinning somebody out down the frontstretch at Darlington at 170 mph. 
    "It's just the way the cards were dealt at that particular moment."
   Busch says he senses Harvick's dislike of him may stem from something  between Harvick and brother Kurt Busch years back. "I've never gotten along with the guy.  I don't know that he really ever got along with my brother either.  I think there's something beyond, from his past, racing with Kurt that I don't know, and I was just thrown in with that."

 Maybe Kyle Busch is simply winning too darned much these days....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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