Both Joe Gibbs Racing team drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch eased into grins Saturday morning when asked if their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup excellence this year has caused any sort of divisive inner team rivalry.
Judging by the demeanor of these two former Cup champions, the competition is good between them and the respect aplenty.
And the results prove the positive vibes. Busch has four wins and series bests 10 top fives and 15 top 10s in the No. 18 JGR Toyota. He trails championship leader Joey Logano by a single point entering Sunday’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Truex, who drives the No. 19 JGR Toyota, is ranked fifth in the standings, but his four wins ties Busch for most in the series. He has seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes.
“I would say that it’s a friendly rivalry,’’ Busch said. “The way we go about it, we put everything out on the table. We have crashed each other a few times and we have been pissed at each other a few times, but a couple weeks later we are back to business and we are joking around in meetings and we are working with one another and stuff like that.
“You are going to have those situations that happen just because of how close we are running. We try to give each other the space you need and the respect that each of us deserve. Sometimes we run into one another, but that happens. But it has been good overall.”
Truex agreed. The mutual respect is there and even a certain acceptance and fondness of their newly-strengthened friendship since Truex joined JGR this season.
“I think it’s definitely more of a friendly rivalry now that we are the same shop,’’ Truex said of their relationship. “I think there were some challenges throughout the years with two different teams. It wasn’t always on-track stuff. Definitely now, it’s more a friendly rivalry. It has been really good.”
The two are the last three race winners at Chicago – Busch winning last year and Truex winning the previous two races. Twice this year they’ve finished first and second. Busch won at Phoenix and Truex was runner-up. Truex won last week at Sonoma, Calif. and Busch was runner-up.
“We were joking all weekend last weekend,’’ Truex said of the Sonoma race. “It was cool to put it in Victory Lane and get the back-and-forth on pit lane. It was really cool that he stuck his head in there and to see all those guys after the race was really good. I’m sure they weren’t over the moon happy with me winning, but they were very respectful and great teammates about it.’’