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Teammates take different paths to moving on

May 20, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Busch coming to grips with lack of unwritten rules; Hamlin focused on this year

After five years of competing in what is now called the Sprint All-Star Race, Kyle Busch has finally figured out the rules.

Not the actual rules governing the competition on the track. Those have changed so frequently from year to year that drivers usually need a crash refresher course, although this year they remain the same as in 2010.

"You think when you race a teammate or you race a brother, you kind of expect them to still be your teammate or your brother. But apparently, in the All-Star race, you've got no friends."


Nope. Busch recently was talking about the gentlemen's rules between drivers -- specifically between himself and his brother, Kurt, and his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, especially Denny Hamlin.

And what the younger Busch said he has discovered in regards to those rules is very simple: There aren't any.

Busch said he learned that the hard way after being involved in a crash with Kurt in the 2007 All-Star event, and especially after last year's dustup with Hamlin. In last year's incident, Busch was attempting to pass Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch with less than two laps remaining in the final segment of the event when Hamlin appeared to check up and attempt to block him.

That caused Busch to slam into the outside wall, and subsequently led to a tire failure that put him out of the race altogether. Busch screamed into his radio afterward.

"Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race. I swear to God, I'm gonna kill that [expletive]. All his [expletive] fault. I had this race won! It was won!"

Then Busch drove straight to Hamlin's hauler, parked his car outside, and waited for his teammate to arrive following the conclusion of the race. They talked for 20 minutes in a meeting that also included team owner Joe Gibbs.

Busch recently talked about what he learned that night.

"We talked about it that night and we talked about it that week after," he said. "You think when you race a teammate or you race a brother, you kind of expect them to still be your teammate or your brother. But apparently, in the All-Star race, you've got no friends. So that's it."

Hamlin certainly would like that to be it. Told of Busch's comments and others Busch made regarding last year's incident, Hamlin took the high road and calmly begged to have the subject be left alone.

"I really don't know why [Busch made his recent comments]. I would like to leave this behind -- for sure," Hamlin said after Busch claimed the pole for Saturday night's latest All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin qualified 15th out of 18 teams for the event and sat in his hauler for 45 minutes afterward before coming out.

But even then, he insisted on keeping the focus on what is ahead for his No. 11 Toyota team -- and Busch's No. 18 team -- rather than what is behind either of them. Hamlin admitted he was miffed Friday, but said it had everything to do with his team's poor performance in qualifying.

"It's just a combination of bad stuff. We had a bad pit stop. We were kind of average in all the other things," Hamlin said. "The pit boxes that they have you're either on the short pit or the long pit. We got unlucky and got the long pit, so we had to run pit-road speed longer ... all that stuff. When you have a bad pit stop, it just makes it all look bad."

In his earlier comments, Busch admitted he expected more give from Hamlin during the last All-Star Race, and still struggles to understand what happened and why. He said he went to Hamlin's hauler that night expecting more concrete answers than what he was given.

"We just talked about the circumstances that happened on the race track, and how I thought we were supposed to race each other like teammates -- but yet he thought you don't have any teammates and don't have any friends in that case. Different philosophies," Busch said.

"When you work at Joe Gibbs Racing and both your cars carry the same name, you think about that guy more than just singling yourselves out. When you work for a team that has more than one driver, you think of it as a team -- not just I.

"It wasn't that hard to me. I expected a little bit more from him -- and I had given him a lot more than maybe than he's thought about over time. But maybe that's just differences in the way you race sometimes, or the way you think sometimes. You just have to learn that."

All-Star Race

2.Clint BowyerChevrolet
3.Greg BiffleFord
4.Carl EdwardsFord
5.Mark MartinChevrolet

Hamlin insisted after the race that he didn't do anything wrong, or anything that Busch wouldn't have done to him. And on Saturday, he said it was an old story he didn't really want to talk about any longer.

"Last year is last year," Hamlin said. "To me, it makes no difference what anyone says. We're teammates. That's the bottom line. We're cool."

Busch said he would like to forget about last year, too. But then he went on to say he felt he had to make the move to pass Hamlin.

"I think it was a really bad day, and I'd like to forget about it," Busch said. "But it was a hard-fought race. We were going after the win; it was the final segment. You've got to get all you can on a restart because you don't know how many laps you'll have to get by the guys. And if it goes green the rest of the way, it's going to be hard to catch 'em to run 'em back down and pass 'em."

In the aftermath last year, Hamlin not only defended his actions but later offered up some pointed criticism of Busch -- saying that his teammate, in a nutshell, lacked the maturity to be a leader and a champion.

Busch was asked if Hamlin's comments, made six days after the incident during practice for the 2010 Coca-Cola 600, hurt him.

"His comments hurt him a lot more than they hurt me," Busch said. "As soon as it happened, I got a call from Joe. He said, 'Don't worry about it. I'll fix it.'"

What Busch really would like to fix now is his record in the All-Star Race. In his five previous starts, he's failed to finish four times and never come close to winning the $1 million prize that comes with a visit to Victory Lane. His best finish -- heck, his only real finish -- was seventh in 2009.

"With all the other sports also having their All-Star events, I feel like ours is a little more prestigious, a little bit more fun -- and also a lot more challenging," Busch said. "You know, those guys go out there and just play around a little bit. Whether it's hard or it's easy, I'm not sure. I'm not in their sport. But for us, it's guts all-out. You've got nothing on the line except for the million bucks that's right out there in front of you. You just want to bring home that check and bring home that trophy, and have a good time with your team in the process."

Maybe even with your teammates, too, despite what Busch said earlier. Hamlin, who counts two top-five finishes and two DNFs in his four All-Star starts, insisted the two have a good working relationship.

"Kyle actually called me this week to apologize for saying that [a television report] took something he said on the radio and made it sound like he was talking about me, when he said he wasn't talking about me at all," Hamlin said. "There's nothing to get started."

As for last year, Hamlin added: "It's for sure behind us. I really don't know why it wouldn't be."