By: Ashley McCubbin

There’s been a lot to talk about since NASCAR got back to racing, with most of the discussion surrounding a pair of drivers – Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

 

Timeline of Events

Everything between the pair got started a week ago, last Wednesday at Darlington Raceway. Busch would slightly misjudge the gap between Elliott and Kevin Harvick going down the frontstretch, coming up too soon and making contact to send the No. 9 Chevrolet into the inside wall. Elliott would show his displeasure in the form of a single finger salute as Busch drove by.

The pair would speak on Thursday after the event, with Busch apologizing for the contact and Elliott accepting that.

“We talked about it,” Elliott told the media a day later. “Like I told him, I don’t think he wrecked me on purpose. I think that he was trying to make a spot that wasn’t there. And, much like I told him, I get that mistakes happens, that’s part of life and I get it. He’s just not a guy that makes many mistakes, so for me to be on the poor end of a rare mistake on his end is, at the end of the day, unfortunate for me and my team.”

Flash forward to four days later, and Elliott was left at the bitter end of disappointment once again. It seemed he had the race victory in-hand with a sizable lead over Brad Keselowski, until the caution came out with two laps to go due to a flat tire for his teammate William Byron. Alan Gustafson elected to bring Elliott down pit road for four tires, while several others stayed out on-track. Elliott came up short in his drive back through, credited with second as Keselowski went to victory lane.

As the Georgia native climbed out of his car dejected on pit road, it was Busch who walked over to offer some words of encouragement. After winning the Xfinity Series race on Monday, Busch told the media he felt bad for Elliott, as he’s been in the same situation too many times himself.

“Obviously, through everything that happened the week before and for how bad that situation was, him and I both kind of felt like at the end of that one, there was a heck of a lot of ways to lose these things,” Busch said. “Disappointment, he’s taken it a heck of a lot better than I ever have. I certainly was never very good at disappointing races. He’s doing good and just told him to keep going forward and go get the next one.”

The next race they both would enter was Wednesday night, with $100k on the line. Prior to the COVID-19 break, Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of the series sponsor, placed the bounty on Busch, saying they’d pay any Cup Series driver who could beat Busch in a Truck Series event. Elliott was one of the first to sign up for the opportunity, partnering with GMS Racing.

The race came down as any fan would have wanted, with Elliott leading in the late stages as Busch moved into the runner-up spot. Although it appeared the gap between the pair was slimming down in the final laps, it eventually steadied out through lap traffic. The No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet would go to victory lane, collecting the bounty.

In continuing their jabs back and forth, Elliott did his interview with NASCAR on FOX, before collecting the checkered flag and then performing Busch’s signature bow for winning.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Elliott said of his actions. “I thought we’ve had so much fun with this with Kevin putting up the money and Kyle’s a good sport about it, I hope. I’m not trying to offend anybody, but just having some fun with it. It was about beating him and we did it, so why not have some fun with it?

“I hope nobody gets their feelings hurt, but if they do, then whatever.”

As of his post-race media availability, Busch had not seen a replay of Elliott’s actions, but noted he wasn’t upset with the actions, calling it fine and cool.

“Immitation is the strongest form of flattery or something, I don’t know what it is,” he added. “That’s cute.”

 

The Real Winners? NASCAR and the Fans!

While there was certainly some frustration and disappointment experienced, the real winners are ultimately the fans and NASCAR.

With the two of the sport’s Most Popular Drivers centered in the controversy, it has resulted in social media lighting up with fans taking sides through each of the events that have happened. Bringing forth discussion and engagement is the best way to keep everybody entertained, and wanting to come back for more. It also gives the fans something to talk about, rather than complaining as we’ve seen in the past about other aspects that they’re not agreeing with. Good conversation, controversial at that, is very worthy.

It’s also fair to say that with other sports still on-hold through the pandemic, these are making for some compelling clips that will be repeatedly shown in sports’ recaps and telecasts through the days to come. The result? NASCAR’s engagements numbers going up, allowing for more potential fans to be reached. If just some of them tune in and like the product, then this has done it’s due course for the sport.

There was also a time that some were saying NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Elliott had a dry personality, with not much to offer typically across his social media feeds or availability with the media. That’s certainly something that can’t be claimed anymore based on the salute and bow.

Chris Graythen | Getty Images

On the flip side, the emotions from Busch have been expressed through it, including frustration in coming up short on Tuesday against Elliott for the bounty. His anger mostly got directed back to his own team, citing broken parts and unable to get the right feel for the truck as the reasons for losing out.

“It doesn’t help showing up to the race track with broke parts on your truck. That was a problem from the get-go,” Busch commented afterwards. “Didn’t have our right-front stopper right so we were all over the splitter. We came in and didn’t know it was broke so had to fix it with a make shift piece and it was way too high. Then we tried to fix it and just never was right. We were out in left field the whole night. Never really had a great feel for the truck or a great driving truck. Just salvaged what I could.”

For Busch to be battling the issues that he was and still finish second is a testament to his ability behind the wheel, and why he has become the all-time win leader in the series. Though while he offered an explanation, many fans threw back in his face that he was a crybaby, or offering excuses.

If every driver whom did not win just spoke that they were okay with the run, thanked their sponsors and didn’t show emotion, it’d get boring real quick listening to a bunch of corporate robots.

Busch is a special breed in that he has never done that through his career. Instead, he wears those emotions on his sleeve and shows them straight forward immediately. Some appreciation should be shown for his honesty in telling you exactly what happened and how he feels about those events. Let’s face it – he wasn’t complaining or crying, but rather just saying what he endured so you understood why he was so frustrated.

If every driver gave the same interview, there’d be no fun quotes to think back and laugh at, including Busch’s statement after speaking with Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafason last week that they wouldn’t be having ice cream together anytime soon. There’d also be no lines of frustration that can sometimes get others fired up or understand just how much fire these drivers have.

Essentially, NASCAR would just look like a bore of drivers going around in circles when the sport gets featured in telecasts. So thank you Busch, for allowing those who aren’t in the trenches like you to understand what goes through the mind.

As these drivers get ready to do battle once again on Wednesday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there’s hope that the fun will continue so everybody has something to talk about.