WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – "You wrecked me!"
"It was an accident."
Welcome to the prickly world of Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who just can't seem to stay out of each other's way on the racetrack.
Ever since Busch chanted "anyone but the 48" after Johnson drove his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy past Busch to win at Bristol in the fifth race of the Sprint Cup season, it's almost been nobody but the 48 when the two have gotten close to each other on the track.
When Busch bumped Johnson out of the way to take the lead in the closing laps at New Hampshire in June, Johnson caught Busch, put a little bump on his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge and slipped his No. 48 underneath with two laps to go, and won for the fifth time to tie Denny Hamlin for the series lead in victories.
"I don't want people to think, 'Oh, I can knock the 48 out of the way because he's not going to wreck me,'" Johnson said after the race.
Last week at Pocono, it got worse when Johnson caused a stunning late-race crash that collected Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer and Busch. Replays showed the 48 appearing to hit Busch's blue No. 2 from behind. Busch's car swerved in front of Bowyer's Chevy before slipping sideways into the infield grass and smashing into the infield barrier.
Busch walked away, the race was halted for 20-plus minutes while workers cleaned up extensive debris and welded the barrier back together, and after getting checked out by medics, Busch pointed blame straight at the number he has come to despise.
"I wrecked on the straightaway. Jimmie Johnson drove straight through us," he said.
Johnson called Busch on Monday to talk, and the two say they've put the incidents in the rearview mirror.
"It was a racing incident and I hate that over the last year or two there have been a lot of those racing incidents, and he has certainly been on the losing end of that situation," Johnson said between practices for Sunday's Cup race at Watkins Glen International. "It is nothing intentional and nothing I have against him. He and I joked on the phone that we have these magnets we can't get rid of."
"I may not intentionally try to wreck him," Busch said. "It's tough to put it behind me because I look at the wrecked race cars I have at the shop, where he goes to his shop and all those cars are pretty and clean. We've got a high car count of wrecked cars over at our shop and those guys on the 48, and even (Johnson's teammate) Jeff Gordon, with what he did to us at Sonoma, it's been definitely a one-way street right now."
Late in the June race on the road course at Sonoma, Gordon and Busch were running side by side near the front when Gordon knocked the No. 2 off the racing surface. Busch, who had a similar confrontation with Johnson at Sonoma the previous year and finished 11 places behind the 48, finished 32nd after starting third.
Busch, a solid sixth in the standings with two wins, said his team was struggling with getting the damaged cars turned around quickly enough and has been hearing it from his crew.
"I feel bad for all the guys," Busch said. "At the same time, it's tough when they're texting me, 'Hey man, we need to go wreck that guy. We need to put him on his lid,' and have to manage everything.
"Ultimately, it comes down to the drivers down on the track knowing when someone crosses the line or not. Johnson and I are fine. It's tough when we have three (wrecks) against nothing right now."
Busch has worked hard to improve his image since he won the Cup title in 2004, beating Johnson by just eight points in the closest championship in series history, and credits Roger Penske for much of the transition.
And he likes where he is.
"The guys at Hendrick are pretty boys and they get on "People" Magazine covers and that's their job," Busch said. "My job is to go out and race cars, and that's what I focus on. If the roles were reversed and the 2 car wrecked the 48, I would have been hung. I would have been lynched at the gates for wrecking a four-time champion. But if the roles were reversed, I wouldn't have bumped the 48 in that fashion and both of us would have continued on and ended up with good results."
Watkins Glen has seen its share of dustups and wrecks since the Cup series began racing here 25 years ago. Johnson said he doesn't expect anything to happen with the No. 2 on Sunday.
"There is a good rivalry there and a lot of hard racing that we have been able to race against each other over the years," Johnson said. "But I don't see it being any more than that. I hope that everything goes away. I have nothing against him. I'm just going to stay away from him as much as I can."
"We'll both try and put it behind us," said Busch, who will start in fifth, just four spots ahead of Johnson.