Tempers flare between Kyle Busch, Truex Jr. at Atlanta
September 01, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- Temperatures ran high all day, but it wasn't until the sun set that things started to heat up Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Just before the initial white flag was thrown in the Oral-B USA 500, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. got into each other, bringing out the caution and setting up a green-white-checkered finish. And then they got into each other again. And again.
Tempers flared on track and it was evident that the two drivers were determined to exchange unpleasantries in the garage area post-race.
NASCAR race director David Hoots cued up his radio on the cool-down lap to instruct officials to separate the No. 18 car of Busch and the No. 78 car of Truex. But they filed into the Sprint Cup garage area nose-to-tail, with Busch stopping short behind his Joe Gibbs Racing hauler and initially blocking Truex -- and the rest of the field -- behind them.
Truex dismounted in a hurry and walked the handful of steps to the driver's window of Busch's car and leaned in to engage his rival in a spirited discussion over the late-race events. Truex came up for air, then continued to harangue Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers. Once the dust settled and Truex's car was rolled away, Busch quickly left without comment, but the 78 driver added his take on what transpired.
"We hung in there, fighting for every possible position until Kyle, for whatever reason, ran into the back of me, causing pretty good damage to our car," Truex said. "I passed him clean earlier and then he comes back and hits me from behind. It was totally uncalled for and hard to figure out why he did what he did."
After getting an earful from Truex, Rogers stuck around to comment on the incident and noted that both drivers might have a case for pointing fingers.
"I'll have to go back and watch the film," Rogers said. "Martin and Kyle have always raced each other kind of hard. It's typically clean racing, but it's definitely hard racing. Two sides to every story here. Kyle said that he was expecting Martin to go to the bottom; Kyle was trying to dive bomb the top and get a run on him there in the closing laps. Then Martin went up high, Kyle got on the brakes and just couldn't get it slowed and got in the back of him."
The altercation showed the frustration that a pair of struggling drivers are feeling right now. Busch's 16th-place finish Sunday is his best in a string of five races that saw his average finish stand at 35.0, while Truex's 2014 season -- his first with one-car organization Furniture Row Racing -- has only seen a trio of top-10 finishes.
The patience between the two was already stretched thin, and the late-race run-in didn't help matters much.
"Since they race each other so hard, the patience will each other is so small and it's the closing laps of a race," Rogers said. "It's unfortunate. This M&M's crew, we've had a tough month here just trying to get this ship turned around and headed in the right direction going into the Chase. ... Really proud of the guys for their heart and effort, just disappointed that it ends with that sour note at the end."
After the race, Rogers and team owner Joe Gibbs had a lengthy conversation outside the No. 18 hauler. It certainly didn't seem to be any sort of lecture -- as Gibbs is sometimes known to hand out if he doesn't particularly like how one of his drivers is acting on track -- but it doesn't mean he won't be addressing the situation, either.
"Coach is one of the best guys you could ever ask to work for," said Rogers, who exchanged heated words over radio with his driver just last weekend at Bristol. "Great leader and a great mentor, but usually on game day he just comes and asks us what we're thinking. He checks our pulse and goes home and he'll sit us down Monday or Tuesday and tell us what he sees. Wise man."
For now, while the 16th-place finish -- and accompanying drama -- wasn't the type of night the defending race-winning 18 team was looking for out of Atlanta, but Rogers isn't ready to count his squad out.
"Obviously, you like to go into the Chase with a bunch more laps led, a bunch of wins but none of that matters. If anyone thinks that the 48 (of Jimmie Johnson) won't be a contender in the Chase, they're fooling themselves. And the 48 has had a miserable stretch here, too.
"Yesterday is yesterday. Tomorrow is tomorrow," he said. "I think we're going to be ready to go when the Chase comes."
NASCAR.com's Zack Albert contributed to this article.