BROOKLYN, Mich. â NASCAR Cup Series drivers are pushing limits on the track and pointing fingers off it as tensions rise with just 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, NASCARâs 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 didnât attempt to bring Johnson and Blaney together to hash out their differences.
âI think theyâre man enough to sort that one out between themselves,â Miller said in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday. âThe other stuff with the other drivers kind of escalated a little bit to more retaliation.â
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.
Busch, the points leader, will begin 24th in the 38-car field.
Johnson qualified 12th and is desperately hoping to be in the 16-driver playoffs. The seven-time champion is tied with Ryan Newman for the 16th and final spot in the playoffs. Since the series created the postseason format 15 years ago, Johnson has earned a spot each time.
Aggressive driving has always been, and will always be, a part of auto racing because competitive drivers compete for every inch of track position at high speed with high stakes.
When drivers are asked whatâs fair and what crosses the line on the track, they defer to NASCAR to provide definitive answers.
Miller, meanwhile, acknowledged he canât really answer the question.
âEverybody wants to know. We would like to know as well,â Miller said, sitting outside the NASCAR hauler. âItâs one of those things where every incident like that, you have to take into the context of what it is. Itâs almost like when your kids act up, every situation is not the same. Thatâs kind of the way it is with the drivers and the situations.â
While it is rare in the series, NASCAR can suspend drivers.
âWeâve sat people down,â Miller said. âItâs a hard line to draw.â
NASCAR hasnât 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 doesnât appear that any of the recent spats will lead to harsh penalties unless they escalate out of control.
Johnson wants Blaney to apologize for making contact from behind going into a turn, leading to him spin out last Sunday at Watkins Glen. Blaney insisted heâs not going to say sorry and NASCAR officials seem to be on his side.
âThat one was, to us, was completely a racing incident,â Miller told the AP. âI think they both think something different about that.â
Likewise, Busch has a different take than Byron and Wallace after making contact with both drivers in NASCARâs previous Cup race.
Busch spun while racing for position against Byron. Later, Busch retaliated by knocking Byron into the grass. Byronâs 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 championâs 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 some extra attention, and itâs not necessarily bad publicity for a sport that craves it.
âIf you draw a parallel to another sport, I donât think the pitcher that throws at a batterâs head are friends,â Miller said. âItâs probably not a bad thing for the game that thereâs a little bit of tension and a rivalry. Rivalries are good for all sports.â