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NASCAR President Mike Helton insisted Busch was suspended specifically because of what happened with Hornaday, and not because it was another misstep in a career pocked with bad behavior. So it was the line, so to speak, in the “Boys, have at it” policy that permits drivers to settle their scores without NASCAR interference.

And then it wasn’t.

When Brian Vickers wrecked Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s race, most everybody believed it was payback from their on-track collision at Martinsville last month. After all, Vickers had promised retaliation, and Kenseth knew it was eventually coming.

So it seemed more than a little suspicious to see Vickers ramming into the back of Kenseth, then staying on his bumper until Kenseth was in the wall. But NASCAR said nothing was afoul, and earlier reports of a brake problem by Kenseth maybe even provided an explanation for how Vickers ended up running into Kenseth.

Kenseth didn’t buy it, and neither did most race fans, who failed to see an obvious distinction between Busch’s behavior and Vickers’.

“It was so premeditated, it just surprises me that (NASCAR) didn’t do anything,” Kenseth said. “They need to figure out how to get the drivers to settle their difference in a different way and talk about it, or figure it out, or do something instead of using your car as a battering ram.”

It was just another subplot in what’s shaped up to be an exciting close to another season.

It’s what chairman Brian France so desperately wanted _ he said as much when he hinted at offseason points changes last year _ and gives NASCAR plenty to promote this week in the buildup to Edwards vs. Stewart on Sunday.

“I want to go to Homestead tomorrow and start,” Stewart said after Sunday’s race. “I want tomorrow to be Friday. I’m pumped up. I’m excited about it and ready to go.”

So is everyone else.