Kenseth mad at Kurt Busch for being himself
Kurt Busch won Sunday by bumping former teammate Matt Kenseth out of the way. Kenseth should have expected it, writes Rupen Fofaria.
That's a whole lot of people to bring into a two-dog fight.
Fact of the matter: Bristol is short-track racing, things get heated and, like it or not and despite what anyone says, things can get personal.
For the previous six seasons, Busch and Kenseth were teammates. This year, they're off to a contentious start to their first year as rivals. Busch made contact with Kenseth late in Sunday's Food City 500 and drove on to earn his fifth victory at the half-mile oval -- his first in a Dodge.
And Busch did it in a style Wallace, the previous driver of Busch's No. 2 Dodge, had won and in the fashion Wallace had lost many short-track races.
Kenseth's problem with Busch was that Busch bumped him too hard. That's a legit gripe, but it's hard to prove. Watching in person or on television doesn't cut it. You'd need to be in one of those two cars to tell.
But the way Kenseth voiced his frustration was troublesome.
"I always try to think, 'Would Mark Martin have done that?' " Kenseth said after the race, evoking the clean reputation of his teammate and Busch's former teammate. "If Mark Martin would have done that, then that was probably a fair move. If Mark Martin wouldn't have done that, then it probably wasn't a fair move."
But if there's one thing we've learned over the past six years, it's that Kurt Busch is not Mark Martin.
And while I've never driven a race car, if there's one thing I've learned by watching others do it: It's that not everybody needs to be Mark Martin.
Some drivers are cut from the Earnhardt mold. Or the Waltrip mold. Or the Yarborough mold. No two drivers need to be the same. And yet, all can enjoy success.
Even Kenseth understands this, because in the next breath after evoking Martin's reputation he hit the nail on the head.
"Everybody is different," he said. "There are some people that would do that and then there are some people that wouldn't."
The bottom line: Busch took the win from Kenseth and it hurt. It should hurt. Competitors always hurt when they lose. That's what keeps them hungry.
But Kenseth needs to remember that every racer is different. And even if what Busch did was wrong, and I'm not saying whether it was or it wasn't, Busch is his own man.
"Maybe I should do that to people and maybe I'd have more success," Kenseth said. "I don't know. Maybe I'd be sitting there, but I wouldn't have done it. I didn't think it was the right move at the time."
That, right there, is all that matters. Kenseth didn't think it was the right move at the right time. He wouldn't have done it, he said. Fine.
But Busch would. And he did. And he enjoyed the boos that rained down upon him afterward. If he can live with that, then more power to him. That's what short-track racing is about.
I'm not totally absolving Busch of blame in his thinking, either. If you're gonna bump a guy, bump him. Don't think twice about who he is -- as Busch admitted he might have.
"If I was still a teammate with him, maybe I would have let him lift," Busch said. "But I was hungry to drive the Miller Lite Dodge into Victory Lane. Today was a big victory for us. This is the Bristol atmosphere of bumping and grinding. I've seen Jeff Gordon win many races here, and take a few races away from Rusty for that matter. That's part of Bristol. Next week is another short track."
Short-track races are fun to watch. And even if Busch got boos for his move, you're crazy if you don't think he got some cheers, too.
"If we're leading and he's running second and he bumps me out of the way, I'd understand," Busch claimed. "That's what goes on, man. This racing is awesome. Fans dig it. That's the big thing about Bristol. You have to come to race hard. You have to be able to hoist up the trophy at the end of the day without any grudges."
Of course, that's always easy for the winner to say.
Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.