The last lap of Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen was one of the most exciting in years, but it also deserves a closer look to try and truly understand what happened in the incident between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
At first glance, it appeared Keselowski simply wrecked Busch, who was leading the race at the white flag. Heading into Turn 2, Keselowski made contact with the right rear quarterpanel of the No. 18 car and sent it spinning around.
But there's much more to the story than that.
First, let's back up for a moment. Bobby Labonte – one of Busch's fellow Toyota cars – was leaking oil all over the track and attempting to limp his car to the finish. NASCAR did not see the oil and thus did not believe there was probable cause to stop the race, forcing drivers to finish the last two laps while sliding all over the pavement.
Busch, in his position as the race leader, was the first car to run through the oil. So while Busch attempted to save his car in every corner, his once-sizable lead suddenly dwindled. The No. 18 car even slowed to the point people thought there was something wrong with it.
There wasn't anything wrong with the car, but Busch was having trouble in the slippery conditions. In Turn 1 of the final lap, Busch drove through the oil and went off track into the paved runoff area while leading the race. Keselowski and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose were at an advantage because Busch went through the oil first.
In the runoff area, Busch gathered up his car and made a beeline for Turn 2 – as did Keselowski – and the No. 18 car got to the corner first. Busch almost certainly figured he was clear, but it turned out he wasn't – by maybe half a foot.
Though Busch is a very aggressive driver, he does not have a reputation for cutting off his competitors. He is known as a clean racer to his peers, despite what many fans believe. In this situation, however, he essentially did cut Keselowski off – but that's likely because he thought he was clear, not because he was expecting Keselowski to give him a break.
Of all drivers, Busch would know a competitor wasn't going to hit the brakes and just let him in line on the last lap while going for the win. Rather, it's more realistic Busch thought he had room to get in front of Keselowski; and, until the very last moment, he did.
Keselowski's move was not dirty. If he had plowed into Busch's back bumper and knocked the No. 18 car off the track, that would have been considered unfair. In this case, however, he had position and wasn't about to let Busch in line with a win at stake. Perhaps if there had been 30 laps to go, Keselowski would have allowed for that courtesy – but not on the last lap.
Busch is right to be upset with the result. A win might have gotten him into the Chase, and now there are only four races left until the playoff field is set. But if he's honest with himself, he'll blame circumstances rather than Keselowski.
If anything, Busch should be mad at Labonte for leaking oil all over the track or at NASCAR for not throwing a caution. But if the roles were reversed, Busch likely would have done the same thing to Keselowski as what happened to him.
And while Keselowski didn't do anything wrong, he probably can't expect a break from Busch the next time both drivers are racing hard. The move doesn't warrant retaliation from Busch, but it also probably won't win Keselowski any brownie points. Keselowski could have backed off and decided to let Busch have the spot for the moment, but racers don't really do that.
It's cliché to say Sunday's incident was "One of those racing deals," but that's truthfully what happened. Neither driver was at fault; rather, it was simply an unfortunate set of circumstances.