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FONTANA, Calif. -- David Reutimann is generally the docile, self-deprecating type. He doesn't say much unless asked, and isn't inclined to get overly worked up about on-track skirmishes. Wrecking, he figures, is just part of racing.
But last weekend in Kansas, Kyle Busch pushed him too far, and their disdain for one another boiled over into unabashed hell-bent payback.
It's akin to Ralphy's Revenge in the "Christmas Story" movie. That redheaded boy picked on Ralphy one time too many, and the only way to end the torment was to wear him out like Rocky Balboa on a cow carcass.
When it came to fights, my old man used to stress to me: Don't start any of them, but finish them all. Otherwise the picking will never stop.
"Bottom line is nothing would have happened if he hadn't wrecked me. It's the bottom line -- it really is that simple," Reutimann said Friday. "It's not complicated. It's not rocket science. It's just all about respect. And the fact of the matter is he went down there he wrecked me 50 laps into the race backed my car into the fence and he never said anything about it, so he didn't care."
Several drivers -- including garage voice-of-reason Jeff Burton -- came to Busch's defense. From their perspective Busch didn't intentionally dump Reutimann. That doesn't necessarily matter, because the feud wasn't born at Kansas. I'm told it goes back years, and hit the rev-chip at Kansas following a summer full of verbal jabs at one another.
"I heard him get out of the throttle, but if you are David Reutimann and you've been wrecked over the last several weeks and you have had an issue with someone in the past, and now you are having an issue with him again, what recourse do you have?" Burton said. "There are two ways of doing it. You can take something they've got or you have to put fear in them. It can't be idle words. If you tell somebody what you are going to do and then if you don't do it, then it is worse than not ever saying anything."
Both drivers said Friday they'll gladly continue the drama if the other so desires. Certainly, both know it's best to move on. But it's never that easy when emotion is involved.
"I didn't cut him any slack, and you know, I got into him which was my fault, not meaning to, but why would I apologize to a guy that races me like an a------ every week? No point," Busch said.
Busch said Reutimann's banzai run to the fence was intentional, and done with "malicious intent." I asked Reutimann for a response. He didn't disagree.
The fallout from this is wide-reaching. Busch's title hopes took a serious hit, and many were left pondering playoff racing etiquette. Should non-Chasers defer to Chasers?
Negative. The consensus is to go like hell, just make sure you race me like you've always raced me. If you gave me room at Martinsville in April, give me room now.
"Every driver should race every driver the same way they race the entire year," said Ryan Newman, a non-Chaser known for his aggressive nature. "No matter Chase or no Chase.
"There are drivers that are in the Chase that maybe got in the Chase because of the way they raced before the Chase. Sometimes they got to get paid back for that, if you want to call it a payback. I don't think that there is anything different from a Chase racer to a non-Chase racer."
Kevin Harvick agreed.
"I think everybody needs to race as hard as they can," Harvick said. "You know everybody will race everybody with respect, and obviously if you feel like you've been done wrong, you are going to handle it how you think it needs to be handled."
It's the same Golden Rule my momma pounded into my brain until the day she died: Treat people like you want to be treated.
It's a simple principle with dynamic repercussions, both good and bad.
"You know, you have all of these past moments throughout the year that could rear their ugly head again if they haven't been settled," Harvick said. "And [Busch-Reutimann], to me, looked like something that hadn't been settled, hadn't been talked about off the racetrack. So there was just too much emotion involved in that whole situation."
"You have to drive people with respect all the time," Burton said. "You can't pick and choose when you want somebody to respect, and you can't pick and choose when you want to respect them. It has to be all the time or none of the time.
"As a Chase guy, and as a guy trying to win the championship, I don't want anybody messing with me. The guy that is second in points, and [the guy that] is 20th in points, I want them to race me the same way today as they did three months ago. And I don't have a problem with that, because I figure I race people with respect and I'm going to get that back."
Racer's have eternally long memories, no matter what they may say publicly.
The debate is rather fundamental, and centers on just one thing.