With the previous five races dominated by Toyotas (all five poles, and four of the five wins), Ford driver Brad Keselowski took the pole Friday at MIS and then hinted that the Toyotas had dialed it down for Michigan.
“About this time every year NASCAR takes all the cars to kind of check to make sure that the competitive balance is where they want it to be, and I think we’ve seen the last two or three weeks that the Toyota cars are pretty dominant,” Keselowski said. “We had a strong suspicion that those guys would kind of tune it down this weekend, so not to post a pretty big number in inspection that maybe balanced back out the competition, and potentially that’s right because our team hasn’t done much differently and those guys are just not as fast as they’ve been the last few weeks."
As you can expect, the Toyota teams were not happy with these comments, with team owner Joe Gibbs calling the accusation "comical" and driver Kyle Busch calling Keselowski a "moron" and adding "We don't just turn it down. We actually have a new engine package here this weekend."
As it turns out, that new engine package was pretty good, as it nearly propelled Martin Truex Jr. to a win until he lost the lead on the final restart Sunday at MIS to winner Kyle Larson in stunning fashion. For most of the early part of the race, Keselowski had dominated on a day where clean air was the friend of all drivers, and leaders were hard to pass.
After the race, Truex said: "I think that for Brad and those guys that think that maybe we're sandbagging, I think it's a glimpse of if they get their stuff right, maybe they can beat us, and it's not all just that we have better race cars."
So even if Keselowski's comments turn out to be much ado about nothing, these type of frank comments open up the possibility of a real rivalry in the sport -- something I would eagerly welcome.
I remember watching Rusty Wallace battle Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt battle Jeff Gordon, and knowing there was a genuine rivalry there. Sure, the drivers could be cordial at times off the track and definitely respectful of each other's talent, but they would often not mince words with each other, raced each other especially hard, and these were battles where fans had to pick a side and could debate for hours in the campground.
A Brad Keselowski vs. Kyle Busch rivalry, one that could be genuinely sustained both on the track and off, would be something that could only benefit the sport.
And it's not something that would be manufactured either. The two have had their words going back years to Brad's younger days when he seemed to get on the nerves of most of his competitors.
It's one thing for fans to either like or dislike a driver, or like or dislike a certain manufacturer. That kind of thing never went away. But when you get a true rivalry in the sport, especially one between two of the top competitors week in and week out, it puts butts in seats, improves ratings and in the end makes both teams better and the sport more exciting as a whole.
So while some people might not like it when Keselowski speaks out in these kinds of ways, I say it's refreshing that he's able to do so, and that it's equally refreshing that the Toyota drivers have no concerns with responding in very direct terms.
If you were to ask the average NASCAR fan right now what the top rivalry in the sport is, they probably couldn't name one.
Perhaps Keselowski and Busch are about to change that.
Matt Myftiu can be reached on Twitter @MattMyftiu.