11 September 2011
Johnson, Busch hostilities flare at Richmond
Menzer had later been present at the subsequent formal post-midnight press conference when Busch arrived for that, and the driver approached the reporter again for a conversation that soon grew heated and loud once more. The situation almost again looked on the verge of getting physical before Busch was called to the front of the room to take part in the conference with Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart - and Jimmie Johnson, who deliberately took a seat as far down the other end of the table as possible.
"He can keep talking. He can keep running that mouth. He can't help but run his mouth," summarised Johnson. "Hell, he threatened to fight NASCAR.com's Joe. Interesting stuff." He may as well have added, who is in whose head now?
The two did at least have a few quiet words as the 12 Chase contenders were gathered for a photo-call before the end of the long night: "We spoke a few minutes up on the stage, and I certainly hope it's behind us," said Johnson. "I have no intentions to run people over."
Busch also insisted that he wanted this over and done with. "This is where we stand. Cars have been racing; cars have been wrecked. We have a Chase to start, so let's forgive."
Everyone agreed that this had been one of the most all-round tense press conferences they could remember, lightened only by flashes of comparative surrealism. Perhaps it was the late hour, or the strain of the exhausting 400 lap night race, or the euphoria and release of stress after the Chase positions were finally decided.
How else to explain Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski's weird sidebar discussion about crayons and little sharpeners, after Keselowski compared making the Chase to being "like a one-year-old that got his first box of crayons: happy and amazed to have them"?
Or how - when Edwards was asked a serious question about why he had stayed out and decided not to pit under one of the later cautions - Keselowski couldn't resist turning around and chipping in: "Yeah, Carl. Why didn't you?" which was greeted by a cheerful "Screw you, Brad!" by Edwards.
Or Matt Kenseth arriving to find no seats available at the drivers' table, only to briefly take up residence on Jimmie Johnson's knee?
By this point a high degree of black humour was settling in on the room. When Kenseth challenged another reporter's question about his not having had any top four finishes all season, the reporter held up his notebook and asked if Kenseth would like to rip it up instead, which got a smile from Kenseth and a strained laugh from the room.
"Thank you, guys," deadpanned Kenseth as the most bizarre NASCAR press conference in living memory finally broke up. "You're doing a fine job."
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