DARLINGTON, S.C. — Darlington Raceway is bracing for Round 2 between Kevin "The Hitman" Harvick and Kyle "Rowdy" Busch.
Track president Chris Browning said he knew from the moment Harvick and Busch tangled after last year's Southern 500 his people would have the perfect way to sell this weekend's Sprint Cup race.
Harvick left his car, punched at Busch through the window of his No. 18 Toyota before Busch pushed Harvick's machine out of the way to leave.
Fans cheered and Browning had his ad campaign.
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"I told our guys," Browning recalled, "'Look, our creative (thinking) is done. This is what we need to do.'"
The combatants aren't thrilled about the idea.
"I think it's dumb. It's pretty stupid," Busch said at Richmond a couple of weeks ago.
Harvick was less blunt, yet still believes it's easier to race when you're not in the midst of controversy.
"It's just easier to not to have to answer the questions from your sponsors, or your team," he says.
The track has placed billboards throughout the region, purchased radio spots and Internet ads promoting a potential second showdown at the Southern 500 on Saturday night.
They had plenty to work with following the controversy after last year's Southern 500.
Busch, Harvick and Clint Bowyer were three-wide on the narrow racetrack during a late restart when all were trying to chase down winner Regan Smith. Bowyer went sprawling into the interior wall after contact. As cars spun out behind, Busch gathered his machine, then veered down the track and sent Harvick spinning.
Smith held on through a green-white-checkered finish for his first Sprint Cup victory. But the real drama was unfolding on pit road as Busch and Harvick drove from the track. Busch was up against Harvick's back bumper when Harvick jumped out and rushed toward Busch's window where it looked like he took a swing at Busch.
Busch bumped Harvick's driverless car into the interior wall and headed into the garage.
Both were called into the NASCAR hauler and each left composed — although with different versions of what happened.
Busch said Harvick engaged in "unacceptable racing."
"I gave him room off of two, I didn't get the room," Busch said.
Harvick said he was running hard and "things happen. That's it. What do you do?"
Busch and Harvick were both fined $25,000 and placed on probation by NASCAR after the Darlington tussle. It wasn't the last time the two bumped and battled on NASCAR's top circuit. A few weeks later at Pocono, the two were fighting for position and Harvick forced his rival down the track. NASCAR radioed both crews to tell their drivers to cool it.
That's not likely to happen. NASCAR Hall-of-Fame driver and announcer Darrell Waltrip says the two may be the closest thing the circuit has to a continuing, old-style feud.
"I don't think they like each other too much," Waltrip said.
That's what Darlington's counting on to fill the stands.
The ads say, "Don't Miss Round 2" and feature a glaring Harvick with arms folded staring at an image of Busch whose arms are raised in triumph and whose hands appear to have boxing gloves on.
Browning, Darlington's president, reached out to both drivers to do more Harvick-vs.-Busch promotion for the Mother's Day weekend race.
"Both of them politely declined," Browning said. "And I can understand. Each of them have to watch out for their own brands."
Even if everyone else, including fellow drivers, were watching Harvick-vs.-Busch, too.
Denny Hamlin finished sixth last year and was parking in the garage when he heard the fans roaring. Hamlin looked for a TV screen to see what was happening.
"You hear the talk from the crew people, 'Ah, Harvick just hit him. (Busch) pushed his car into the wall,'" Hamlin remembered. "So we're all not worried about what's going on with our cars after the race, we're just worried about the drama off track."
Harvick has helped promote Darlington Raceway in the past. He delivered beer — Harvick's primary sponsor is Anheuser Busch's signature brew, Budweiser — to an area Wal-Mart a few weeks before last year's Southern 500. He's not as comfortable with his latest role promoting the track known as the "The Lady in Black."
"It's a little bit of a difficult situation that it puts everybody in," Harvick said. "It's just easier not to be involved."