Commentary

Keselowski takes backseat to The Fight

Updated: June 6, 2011, 9:37 AM ET
By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The winner of Sunday's STP 400 at Kansas Speedway didn't stand a chance.

The first spring Sprint Cup race ever on this 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval was supposed to take center stage this weekend.

But Kyle Busch stole the spotlight.

Again.

Brad Keselowski conserved fuel masterfully down the stretch to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a hot, humid afternoon in the middle of America. But the outcome of this race will be a mere footnote in the days to come as we continue to dissect and scrutinize what happened in the Camping World Truck Series garage Saturday night.

The new Kyle Busch found himself back in old familiar territory: smack-dab at the center of controversy.

But he got a little help this time -- make that a lot of help -- from Richard Childress. The driver and team owner went at it in the Truck garage area after the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250. Childress apparently took exception to Busch bumping one of his trucks, driven by Joey Coulter, on the cool-down lap.

[+] EnlargeKeselowski
John Harrelson/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski picked up his second career Sprint Cup victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

It was reported that Childress had Busch in a headlock and didn't pull any punches. In old-school terms, it sounded like Childress dragged Busch to the woodshed, dropped his drawers and thrashed him silly. We don't know what actually happened between the two. We may never.

"Boys, have at it" apparently includes team owners, even when the owner is old enough to be the grandfather of the lad he's whoopin'. Some could argue that Childress was just protecting his driver and equipment. (Remember Busch's pit-road run-in with Kevin Harvick, another RCR driver, at Darlington last month?) It's no different than an offensive lineman going toe-to-toe with a linebacker for roughing up his quarterback, right?

NASCAR didn't see it that way. The governing body said Sunday morning that "Childress' actions were not appropriate and fell far short of the standard we expect of owners in this sport." We should learn Monday what punishment NASCAR has in mind for Childress.

NASCAR exonerated Busch, saying the driver "did nothing to provoke" the confrontation with Childress and that Busch did not violate his probation.

Remember, Busch and Harvick were both fined $25,000 and placed on probation through June 15 for their Darlington dustup following the Southern 500. That postrace exchange -- in which Busch pushed the 29 car into a concrete wall after Harvick took a swing at him -- shamelessly overshadowed a career-defining moment for Regan Smith and his emotion-packed celebration in Victory Lane.

Busch was in the headlines again for the wrong reasons on May 24 when he was ticketed in North Carolina for going 128 mph in a 45 mph zone.

The confrontation with Childress was just the latest example of Busch being a lightning rod for bad stuff, whether it's his fault or not.

To his credit, Busch was straightforward in a brief interview with a Speed TV reporter Sunday morning.

"I wasn't the aggressor or the instigator here," he said. "All I can say is that I was just trying to head back to my hauler and deal with my own business."

You can see why Sunday's Cup race took a backseat this weekend. It was difficult to trump a real-life beatdown between two of NASCAR's biggest names -- an event that could've sold well on pay-per-view.

[+] EnlargeCarl Edwards
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesKyle Busch, right, ran up front early but ended up 12th in the STP 400. Carl Edwards, who calls Kansas his home track, finished fifth.

Heaven knows, there were plenty of intriguing storylines going in:

Jamie McMurray's return to his hometown of Joplin, Mo., ravaged by a tornado just two weeks earlier; Midwest natives Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer trying for their first Cup win at their home track; soaring temperatures and humidity making this racetrack a hot, slippery proposition; Earnhardt hoping to recover from last week's heartbreaker at Charlotte; and Kevin Harvick's pre-Chase dominance.

One storyline that wasn't given much mention: Keselowski going to Victory Lane for the first time in 75 races. Under the new scoring system in Sprint Cup, where wins can result in a Chase wild-card berth, Keselowski's finish Sunday was big.

"I really appreciate what this means to my whole team and everybody that has helped me to get here," Keselowski said. "And to Roger Penske, who put me in this ride and stuck with me through a bad year last year. We're in good shape. A few more wins like this and we can make the Chase."

Earnhardt perhaps gained the most Sunday. His third consecutive top-10 finish pushed NASCAR's most popular driver to third in points, just one point behind second-place Jimmie Johnson. Edwards, who finished fifth, is 40 points up on Johnson.

Still, it doesn't make Sunday's result -- Earnhardt's second near win in as many weeks -- any easier to digest.

"We shouldn't have run second again," said Earnhardt, who ran out of fuel on the final lap while leading last week at Charlotte. "We've got to fix some things. We've got fast cars so we can be fast."

Keselowski was plenty fast enough, even though he was in full fuel-saving mode in the final laps. He caught a break when Penske teammate Kurt Busch had to stop for gas while leading with 10 laps remaining.

"I didn't know I was leading 'til two laps to go, and I kind of stretched my neck out and barely caught the corner of the scoring pylon and see I was leading," Keselowski said. "And I was instantly really, really mad at my guys for not telling me, but you get over that pretty quick when you cross the start/finish line for first."

Brad Keselowski celebrated in Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway on Sunday.

Too bad Kyle Busch and Richard Childress stole the spotlight.

Joe Breeze is a motorsports editor at ESPN.com. He can be reached at Joe.M.Breeze@espn.com

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