BROOKLYN, Mich. — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series churns its way into Michigan International Speedway this week, with a chain of feuds, spats, and conflicts simmering under the surface and dominating the recent headlines.
Next Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 is the 15th race of the season for the Cup drivers, and it pushes them ever closer to the cutoff point for the Chase for the Cup championship, which plays out over the final 10 races of the year. Only 12 drivers will qualify for that lucrative playoff, and after Michigan’s June weekend, only 11 races remain before the Chase.
There are no Hatfields or McCoys entered in the Cup race at MIS this weekend, but with that Chase framework, and all of the ongoing discord, racing fans could see unscheduled fireworks play out on and around the two-mile Irish Hills layout.
Drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had a well-publicized scrape at Darlington a few weeks ago, and have been serving probation for their behavior. That time in NASCAR’s doghouse ends Wednesday, the day before the Cup legions are expected to arrive here.
On a recent visit to the area to promote this weekend’s race, Harvick was coy about the likelihood he would resume his feud with Busch at MIS. But after complimenting Busch’s significant driving skills, Harvick left little doubt about his personal feelings for his most recent rival.
“It’s the rest of it that most people don’t like,” Harvick said.
Busch comes to MIS with conflict simmering on another front after he recently received the wrath of Richard Childress, a well-respected NASCAR team owner. Following a Truck Series race at Kansas, Childress was reportedly upset over the way Busch had conducted himself in a position battle with Childress’ driver Joey Coulter.
After a stern chastising from NASCAR behind closed doors, both sides have been mum on the details of what happened next, but it has been widely reported that the 65-year-old Childress got Busch in a headlock and punched him several times.
“He old-schooled him,” nine-time ARCA Series champion Frank Kimmel said about Childress taking matters into his own hands.
Kimmel was involved in a post-race dustup recently at Toledo Speedway after ARCA Series rookie Ty Dillon spun Kimmel out with just over 10 laps left, then charged to victory. Dillon, who is the grandson of Childress, should probably be looking over his shoulder when he and Kimmel join the field for Friday’s ARCA race at MIS.
“It’s a long season, and we have to race all year,” Kimmel snorted after he hit Dillon with a tart verbal volley as Dillon sat inside his car in Victory Lane at Toledo.
Things have gotten so bizarre on the Cup front that Jimmy Spencer, who was the instigator in one of the most infamous confrontations in MIS history, criticized Childress over the Kyle Busch incident.
Spencer earned a one-race suspension in 2003 after he punched Busch’s older brother Kurt as Kurt Busch sat inside his car in the MIS garage following a Cup race. Spencer, who now works as a television analyst, said that by slugging Kyle Busch, Childress had brought the sport “a big black eye.”
“I made a better person out of Kurt by punching him,” Spencer said about the culmination of their season-long feud. “I also know I shouldn’t have touched him. I’ve been in many brawls and nobody benefits from it.”
NASCAR president Mike Helton, who is the ultimate arbiter in the on-track, off-track conflicts, said the sanctioning body is acutely aware of the tension in the air as the action moves to MIS and ready to rein in the extracurricular activity.
“I think throughout the history of NASCAR, we have gone through cycles of everything, including tempers in the garage and on the racetracks,” Helton said recently. “And I think our responsibility lies in reacting to those trends, and if it is a trend that we feel like escalates, then we have a history of stepping in and turning those trends around.”
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.