Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were at it again at Richmond.
Both already locked into the 10-race Chase for the championship, the longtime rivals tussled repeatedly Saturday night on the 0.75-mile oval at Richmond International Raceway.
First, Busch nudged the five-time defending champion into the wall.
Then Johnson retaliated, sending Busch spinning and then spinning, too, a battle that he wound up losing because while Busch was still contending for the victory, Johnson headed for the garage.
"I got your number," Busch fumed on his radio, apparently aimed at Johnson.
When Johnson finally got back on the track, he was 34 laps off the pace, and he and Busch never tangled again. Busch finished fifth, Johnson 31st.
"When he came back to us, you know, you could see it coming. That's not something you see from Jimmie Johnson every day so I know we're in his head. If we're going to race this way, he's got to worry that there's 10 other guys in the Chase, not just the 22," Busch said.
"He's got to learn to race," Busch said. "He's been able to beat guys the last five years just by outdriving them with what he has for equipment."
Johnson admitted he retaliated after Busch hit him the first time.
"If you're going to spin me out, I'm going to spin you out," he said. "It's just part of it. I'm sure I'll go find him and talk to him and he'll run his mouth and we'll go from there."
The two have battled before in this "have at it, boys" year for Sprint Cup racing.
Last month at Pocono, they sideswiped each other on the final lap, then yelled at each other on pit road. Busch, the 2004 series champion, was still in his car when Johnson approached him.
REMEMBERING: An enormous American flag rippled in the breeze as it hung from a fully extended crane on the frontstretch for hours before Saturday night's race.
The flag served as a patriotic backdrop while police and military bands performed as part of a pre-race "Salute to America" concert to honor the military and first responders on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Fans were given small American flags as they entered the track, and several drivers did away with their traditional sponsor paint schemes to race in patriotic colors.
Kyle Busch's Toyota, which normally features images of his sponsor, m&ms, was painted to look like an American flag, and had the words "9-11. Never Forget" across the back.
Ryan Newman, whose team is sponsored by the U.S. Army, raced with a camouflage scheme and the names of all 75 people killed when a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon on the hood.
"To have those that were fallen soldiers in the Pentagon is something that is kind of a bittersweet thing to talk about because we want to give them recognition but they are no longer here to receive that recognition," Newman said. "So it's about the families and the idea that the people make a sacrifice and it's something we all need to be grateful for, to respect our freedom and things we can do in our country. To have 75 names of people that lost their lives in that attack on 9-11 (on the car) is something that is bittersweet to talk about."
The fans were encouraged to wave the flags during the pre-race concert, as well as while New York City police officer Danny Rodriguez sang "God Bless America" and the U.S. Army Infantry Division Band performed the national anthem. Wounded Warriors led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Fans also were encouraged to go silent on laps 9-11 to honor the victims, survivors and those that served in response to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. The three laps of silence also was observed during the ABC telecast, and on the MRN radio broadcast.
It came, conveniently, during a caution, but inconveniently for a crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Denny Hamlin, each of whom was trying to race his way into the Chase.
BAD START: Earnhardt and Hamlin required multiple pit stops before the race was 10 laps old.
After Clint Bowyer, who had an outside chance of making the Chase, spun and backed into the outside wall while racing for third, he tried to right the car and get moving again as the field closed in from behind. Instead, he pulled into traffic and stopped, causing a 13-car pileup.
"I spun myself out and ended up crashing some good cars," Bowyer said of the early mishap.
Hamlin's car hit the outside wall and sustained significant damage to the right side. He dropped to 40th place and went a lap down in the race he had won the last two years.
Earnhardt sustained front-end damage that looked like it might have damaged his radiator, but both teams made repairs and the accident did little to damage their Chase aspirations.
Earnhardt three times benefited from being the first car a lap down when a caution came out, putting him back on the lead lap, and finished 16th to make the Chase for the first time in five years.
"I was disappointed we didn't get to show how good of a car we had," Earnhardt said.
Hamlin finished ninth to make the Chase for the fifth consecutive season
START QUOTE: "We can do this. All night long. 400 laps worth. We can do it." — Tony Stewart, who started the race in 10th place and needing to finish 18th or better to make the Chase for the championship, to his team on the radio before the race got started.
END QUOTE: "He's got to learn to race. The last five years he's been beating people by outdriving them." — Kurt Busch on five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson.