CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Just as Kyle Busch settled into a chair in the media center Thursday, someone dropped a package in front of him.
It was a FedEx box. That’s Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR sponsor. Busch smiled, opened it up and found a pair of boxing gloves inside.
Busch initially shrugged off the gag that came five days after his on-track altercation with Hamlin in the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but then sounded like he might consider going a round or two with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. If so, Hamlin is ready.
“Kyle brings this stuff on himself, and he gets mad at the media for asking him questions about his blowups,” Hamlin said. “But he does it to himself. I don’t want to be part of it. Any drama that he wants to create is on him. Anything he says on the radio is on him.
“All I’m going to say, and I’m going to be done with it, is that each year I think Kyle’s going to grow and he just doesn’t. Until he puts it all together, that’s when he’ll become a champion, and right now he just doesn’t have himself all together.”
So much for playing nice, settling their differences in private and preventing another Sprint Cup feud.
Although Busch insisted he and Hamlin have moved on from last weekend’s incident, he didn’t back down from radio chatter in which he threatened to kill Hamlin.
“Absolutely not,” Busch said. “It was the heat of the moment and that’s who I am and that’s my expression and I am not going to be sorry for what I say. It’s freedom of speech.
“I was frustrated. … It was a saying that is said a lot, and take it for what it’s worth. … It wasn’t joking, but it wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t meant (like I was going to kill him). With what? With my great looks?”
Busch sure looked intent on doing some damage Saturday night.
Busch attempted to pass Hamlin for the lead with 10 laps to go in the non-points race, but Hamlin blocked him high and forced him into the wall.
A few laps later, Busch blew a tire and crashed. He responded by lashing out at Hamlin, threatening him over his team radio and then confronting him at Hamlin’s hauler after the race.
Team owner Joe Gibbs stepped in and calmed Busch down. Busch ducked reporters afterward, making his media session Thursday his first reaction to the melee.
“Of course I was heated after the incident,” Busch said. “It surprised me and I wouldn’t have expected my teammate to race me that way, but he’s the leader, he’s got the race track and I now understand that.”
Nonetheless, Busch said he was surprised to see his teammate racing him like everyone else.
Hamlin clearly had been briefed about Busch’s reaction, and he was ready to thrown down. He took shot after shot at Busch, and when it was over, he stood up and told reporters, “Y’all be nice to me. I lashed out. It’s the new me, the new me.”
That was one final parting shot at Busch, who earlier this month credited his calm demeanor during a race as being part of the “new Kyle.”
Hamlin laughed at that notion back then and pretty much did the same Thursday, saying he expects more of the “old Kyle” down the road.
Hamlin also reiterated his position that Busch was at fault in the All-Star race.
“He just felt like I took his line away,” Hamlin said. “His line, the guy behind me. I’m sorry. … If I didn’t think I could win, then maybe I should’ve given him the line, but I was racing as if I could win. I just couldn’t look myself in the mirror or any of my team guys in the face if I pulled over there.”
Hamlin finished fourth. Busch wound up 14th in the 21-car field.
It remains to be seen whether they can work together, beginning Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600. Busch insisted they could. Hamlin said he’s “not going to put too much effort in it, to be honest with you.”
Gibbs, who arrived at the track just before qualifying began Friday night, downplayed Hamlin’s comments.
“I think everything is fine,” Gibbs insisted. “I think both guys probably said where they were in the situation. I think we’re fine and ready to go to work.”
But Busch and Hamlin might not be eager to reconcile. After all, each has had his disputes in recent years, with Busch clashing with his brother and Hamlin squabbling with Brad Keselowski.
Fellow drivers found reasons to defend both Busch and Hamlin in the confrontation, but several, including Busch’s older brother, pointed fingers.
“My little brother, he made a mistake, got up in the fence,” said Kurt Busch, who won the $1 million race. “He’s been running these All-Star races for several years at 1,000-percent pace every year. It doesn’t take 1,000 percent to win it.”