CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are friends — at least they were.
As late as 2008, the drivers were teammates at Penske Racing, and in the first race of that season, Busch pushed Newman to victory in the Daytona 500.
In light of their past relationship, Busch took offense at Newman’s comments after last Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, an event that ended with Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas crew — specifically gas man Andy Rueger — confronting the driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.
Busch blew a tire and hit the wall off Turn 2 late in the race. Newman checked up behind Busch and was turned into the inside wall by Aric Almirola. Both Busch and Newman brought their cars to pit road for repairs.
Newman left his pit stall first. Busch burned rubber through Newman’s adjacent stall, producing a cloud of smoke, while several of Newman’s crew members were still in the box. After the race, Busch bumped Newman’s car on pit road, claiming he was removing his helmet and didn’t realize how close he was to Newman’s Chevy.
Newman didn’t buy the explanation, which he termed “a lie.” Newman also referred to Busch’s “chemical imbalance,” absent any medical evidence to support that assertion.
“Newman and I were friends,” said Busch, who on Tuesday was fined $50,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until July 25 for reckless driving on pit road. “We were great teammates. And he needs to check his trophy case on that Daytona 500 trophy that I helped him get years ago.
“We were always great friends. There was no need for his comments afterwards. He knew his Southern 500 didn’t go the way he wanted it to, and at the end of the night everyone is hot and pissed off. The Daytona 500 is a big race. Darlington 500 is just as big of an event, and a lot of people get excited for it. I wanted to finish in the top 10 and we didn’t get that top-10 finish. So it was a tough night and it all went bad in a hurry.”
In defense of his burnout through the Newman pit, Busch said he was trying to avoid the loss of a lap.
“We just wanted to finish on the lead lap,” Busch said. “So I was trying to get off pit road as quick as I could. Newman, he left his pit a good 10 seconds before us, and I didn’t think there was any reason to think that any of the crew guys were in danger.
“One guy (Rueger) has a problem with it, and it just escalated from there.”