The massive divide between NASCAR’s heavyweights and the underdog teams just scraping by received renewed attention following Kyle Busch’s damning assessment of how backmarkers raced in the playoff opener over the weekend.
Busch rallied from an early incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that dropped him two laps off the pace to stunningly position himself for a top-five finish. Instead, he ran into the back of Garrett Smithley, who was 12 laps down in 35th place.
Busch, the regular-season champion, dropped to a 19th-place finish and went from first to fourth in the playoff standings. Clearly aggravated after Sunday’s race, he was blunt about the incident with Smithley, who was among 23 drivers on the track that day who are not in the 16-driver playoff field.
“I was told he was going to go high. I thought he was going to go high,” Busch said of the instructions he received from his spotter. “We went middle because I thought he was going to go high. Killed our day. I don’t know. Should have run fourth probably. Instead 19th. We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go.”
The comments have drawn sharp criticism, with some saying they came off as entitled simply because another driver didn’t get out of Busch’s way. Some responses came from some lesser-known drivers on underfunded teams and helped spark a debate over on-track etiquette during the playoffs.
Tommy Joe Martins, an Xfinity Series driver when he can piece together a deal to get in a non-competitive car, on Tuesday supported “my friend” Smithley and called him a “really good racecar driver.”
“This fear for any of us driving for a small team: become a controversy,” Martins posted on Twitter. “We all just want to race & be respected. Stuff like this proves how bitter the divide is between 2 sides of this garage. It’s depressing to me.”
Smithley will be Rick Ware Racing’s driver for Saturday night’s race at Richmond Raceway, the second event in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff series. It will be his 13th career Cup Series start; he has one top-five finish in 133 starts across the Xfinity and Truck series.
Busch has always driven for one of NASCAR’s top teams. His break in the Cup Series came with Hendrick Motorsports and he was then hired at Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won 14 of 27 races this season and placed all four of its drivers in the playoff field.
Busch has 207 victories across NASCAR’s three national series and won the 2015 Cup championship.
His criticism prompted a lengthy rebuke from Smithley.
He noted that, unlike Busch, Smithley “didn’t grow up in a racing family, and we certainly didn’t have the funds to race. The only race car my parents ever bought was a used Bandolaro.”