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Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch ramp up pre-Playoffs antagonism

RELATED: Kyle Busch earns Coors Light Pole | Busch fires back at Keselowski

The NASCAR Playoffs have yet to turn an in-race lap, but the war of words already has started between rivals Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski, driver of the Team Penske No. 2 Ford, rekindled his commentary on Toyotas after the manufacturer swept the first four spots in Friday’s opening practice at Chicagoland Speedway.

After a slow start to the season, Toyota has won six of the last nine races heading into Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM), the opening race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

That prompted a fiery response from Kyle Busch, who led Friday’s first practice in the No. 18 Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing.

The back-and-forth volley between the former series champions didn’t stop there with an objection from Keselowski.

Busch then worked in a delightful bit of sponsorship synergy, tied to a new flavor of Skittles.

Keselowski’s remarks echoed the comments he made last month at Michigan International Speedway, where Fords swept the first three spots in Coors Light Pole Qualifying to break a five-race streak of Toyota poles. Keselowski hinted that Toyota teams had intentionally dialed back their performance with the looming specter of closer scrutiny in tech inspection.

Those accusations of sandbagging were met with criticisms from Toyota drivers Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and ultimately Busch, who replied the next day, saying, “That’s just Brad being Brad, I guess.”

Keselowski and Busch have had their share of on-track run-ins, the most recent being a midrace crash last month at Watkins Glen International. Add that to incidents between the two in national series races at Bristol (2010, 2016), Watkins Glen (2012), Kansas (2013) and Michigan (June 2017) and their rivalry is well stoked.

The mid-afternoon social media squabble spilled over into pre-qualifying interviews on NBCSN.

“They’ve got a lot going for them right now,” Keselowski said. “It’s not really fair of me to say where that is. It’s really NASCAR and their team’s job. It is still pretty obvious. You can BS through it any way you want, but it’s there and we know we’re going to have to out-execute ’em and we need a little bit of luck, because at this point in time, their cars have way more speed.”

Said Busch: “We watched those guys be fast in the beginning of the year. We’ve watched them be fast in years past, even when the Penske guys were with a different manufacturer, they won a championship. We didn’t do our complaining on TV, we just did our complaining in the shop on Tuesdays and we went to work. So that’s where it’s all done, and that’s what we’ve done, and I’ve just got to say how proud I am of all our Toyota TRD teammates and guys and teams, Furniture Row, Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD in Costa Mesa … it’s just, the whole package is there.

“It takes a whole lot of hard work and dedication through a lot of great people, and I feel like right now all he’s doing is slapping his people across the face.”