Welcome to FTW’s NASCAR Feud of the Week, where we provide a detailed breakdown of the latest absurd, funny and sometimes legitimate controversies and issues within the racing world.
It’s rare, but every once in a while, we’ll have a NASCAR feud unfold before the week’s race. And that’s where we’re at right now as Cup Series drivers prepare for Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 — the final Daytona International Speedway race over July 4th weekendbefore the schedule changes in 2020.
During practice Thursday for the main event, Brad Keselowski and William Byron got into it on the track. Keselowski — who has three wins in 2019 so far — said making contact with Byron — who’s still looking for his first Cup Series victory in his second full-time season — wasn’t personal. He’s just trying to send a message to the field in general.
So let’s break down what happened and why the No. 2 Ford driver felt compelled to do something about it.
This is what happened:
Byron threw a block on Keselowski, who says he would have had to lift. Instead, Keselowski stayed on the gas and rear-ended Byron and sent him for a little ride sideways around the 2.5-mile track. Initially, Byron thought his No. 24 team would be able to work on the car for Saturday’s race, but, as NBC Sports reported, the team has to go to its backup car.
The Team Penske driver is one of the best superspeedway racers on the track with five wins at Talladega Superspeedway and one at Daytona — the 2016 summer race. He wrecked and didn’t finish in four of the last five Daytona races — the exception being the 2019 Daytona 500 when he finished 12th — and blamed other drivers for causing that “exact same scenario.”
He said it’s “nothing personal against William,” although the 21-year-old driver was involved in a similar incident with Keselowski last year.
His primary complaint has been the difference between a block that forces a driver to lift and one that doesn’t. And when he has to lift, he said he gets hit from behind and ends up not finishing.
“You’ve got to put a line in the sand, and that’s not fun to do, but it’s important to do if you’re going to win these races. I plan on winning these races for my team. They deserve that. …
“If you’re forcing someone to lift, that means they’re going to get run over from behind. And that means I’m sitting on the trailer. I’m tired of sitting on the trailer.”
That happened at this race last season when then-race leader Byron blocked Keselowski, who had to lift while being pushed by fellow Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. That kicked off a chain reaction, sending Keselowski into the wall and triggering a 25-car wreck.
After that, Keselowski took the blame for the accident, but only because he chose to lift. He also said at the time: “I need to wreck more people so they’ll stop throwing bad blocks.”
Fast forward up to Thursday, and Keselowski backed up his comments from last July. While he was sending a message to Byron with the contact Thursday, he explained that it was also meant for the rest of the field, telling NBC Sports:
“He put me in a position to lift, and I keep telling these guys, ‘I’m not lifting.’ So hate it for his team and that they’ve gotta work on their car, and so do ours. Just trying to send a message: I’m not lifting. …
“I’m tired of getting wrecked at the plate tracks. I’ve been wrecked out of four out of these last five races, quite honestly, because I’ve let people put moves like that on me. So they’re all watching. They know.”
To his credit, Byron was actually pretty chill about the whole thing — although it’s clear from his interview with NBC Sports that this was before the team decided to go to the backup car. Byron explained his perspective:
“I was in the lead last year, and he was second, and I guess he felt like I threw a block. I thought I was clear there, which obviously I was, and he just decided to kind of drive in the left rear and then really kind of gave us the damage on the right rear. So I don’t know. It’s practice, I get it, but I don’t think that was really necessary to turn us there. …
“I didn’t really expect that, but that’s all right. It wasn’t like like I changed four lanes down the backstretch and blocked him. I was just kind of holding my lane, and he just used his run to drive into my left rear.”
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