Voice of Vito: Jimmy Spencer for Hire, Busch & Johnson Feud Honors Greatness

Not since Chris Economacki announced that the rookie from Berwick, Pa. was going to use his Daytona 500 winnings to acquire a new hairpiece, has the name of Jimmy Spencer been invoked as it has the past two weeks. To what do we owe this renaissance of the best driver not named Andretti to hail from the Keystone State?

While Brad Keselowski showed Spence what was up by winning in his backyard two weeks ago at Pocono, it was the feud that followed between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Both drivers referenced Spencer in their respective press conferences at the Glen. Johnson is currently third in the championship points standings, while Busch sits sixth.

To say that there is little love lost between this pair is akin to saying… uh, there’s little love lost between Boris Said and Greg Biffle. Actually, Johnson would probably agree.

“There’s no secret about it that there’s no love lost between the two of us,” Johnson said. “We can deal with it. We have done it. We didn’t have wrecked racecars at the end of Pocono. I could have easily gone down into the Tunnel Turn and done something stupid. The stuff on the track, yeah, it makes me mad.

“When you look over the years and what his mouth has done for him – he got my biggest fan Jimmy Spencer (days after Spencer issued Johnson his prized “crying towel”) to punch him, it’s led to issues with the NASCAR officials on pit road. I think we all tune in weekly and wonder, ‘What’s he going to say to his crew guys?'”

“Look at what he said about Roger Penske, his car owner. That aspect is the part that really got me mad. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let him run his mouth.”

Apparently, referring to The Captain as “dude” did not sit well with Johnson – which is odd since Lebowski-fest is kicking off this week. Still, the feelings expressed by Jimmie may have been a tactical error by Johnson. If there is one arena where you’re probably not going to beat Busch, it’s in the war of words and soundbite department. I mean seriously, how are you going to top some of these:

New Hampshire 2008
After suffering right side damage on a pit road incident…
Spotter: “Uh, I can’t see the right side from here…”
Kurt Busch: “We’re on the f***in’ back straightaway, f***in’ Einstein!”

Charlotte 2010
“I’d love to hit the fence right now, head-on, and get knocked out because this is f***in’ bull****.”

Pocono 2011
After getting promptly passed on a late restart:
“Well, at least we won the Pocono 400…”

During Busch’s time on Saturday to provide his side of the story, he took referenced the affable analyst and former driver, who once famously declared, that he never forgets.

“We’ve raced each other hard and I’ve been spun out and wrecked a few times and we both know that we look at each other very sternly,” he said. “That’s great competition. That blends into ‘rubbing is racing’ when you have a history with a guy. You just don’t forget about it. I learned from one of the greats about how to keep a memory on who does you right and who does you wrong. That was Jimmy Spencer. He taught me a lot.”

That lesson that Busch refers to started at Phoenix in 2001, which carried over to Bristol 2002, where Busch moved Spencer out of the way in the closing laps to win the spring event. At Indianapolis, Spencer retaliated, sending Busch spinning backwards at the fastest part of the track entering turn 3, slapping the wall driver’s side first – where there weren’t soft walls at the time.

What resulted was the indelible image of Busch gesturing at Spencer driving by under caution, running into traffic and slapping his posterior, an old short-track signal that means “go to the rear of the field”.

Most took it to infer, “kiss my ass.”

Hostilities escalated at Michigan in Aug. 2003, Busch engaged in similar side-drafting bumping match with Spencer as he did with Johnson at Pocono, whereupon Busch radioed crew chief Jimmy Fennig and admitted that he wasn’t good at being bad – he was trying, in vain, to flatten Spencer’s front fenders.

It led to an exchange in the garage area, which led Busch to getting popped in the nose, and Spencer getting a suspension. When he returned to race at Darlington, the crowd was awash in Jimmy Spencer signs, banners and a raucous cheer from the crowd that was usually reserved for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Spencer went out to qualify, and promptly wadded up his Dodge Intrepid.

For Johnson, to be carrying on a week later after what appeared to be little more than a donut on the last lap was music to Busch’s formidable ears.

“That’s great. It means I’m in his head and if I’m in his head, then he’s got to worry about us running through this Chase,” said Busch. “I’ve been through enough issues in my past to know where I need to be.”

“For me, I think the line is when he swerved at us,” added Busch. “I think he said yesterday he was trying to break the draft. That’s not a move of a five-time champion. That’s the move of a guy that has had an issue with a guy like me.”

Each time Johnson pleads his case – or changes his reasoning for swerving at Busch at Pocono – it does little more than give Busch more material to work with.

As much as these two seem different, and the issues they’ve had with each other, they also both share a tremendous amount of similarities. Both are very articulate, typically calm and reserved in front of the camera, are past (and current) champions, and have a tremendous amount of ability and car control.

Each has also had a number of terse conversations and comments towards their crew this year – Busch’s are typically more comical due to the content and absolutely artistic application of the f-bomb, and both legitimately don’t like each other.

For Busch, it is understandable. He was turned head on into a tire barrier at Sonoma by Johnson in 2008, knocked Busch into the wall at Chicagoland after being booted from the lead on a late-race restart in 2009 and at Pocono a year ago, was sent with Elliott Sadler headlong into the earthen barriers in one of the most wicked wrecks of recent memory.

With the Chase for the Championship set to start about a month from now, you can bet their both of these drivers will be channeling the spirit of Spencer, filing away every bump, rub, and perceived wrong-doing in the memory bank, to justify what might come down to a championship-winning pay back, dump, bump ‘n’ run, or whatever else may rear its ugly head at tracks like New Hampshire, Martinsville or Phoenix.

Then again, Bristol and Richmond are right around the corner too. I almost forgot.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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