August 17, 2015

You won’t believe who hates whom

 Top 5 NASCAR rivalries heading into the Contender Round at Dover

By Brendan O’Meara

NASCAR rivalries can be heated. In a sport with so much horsepower, it’s only natural that spark plugs exist outside the cars and not just under the hood.

If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic in Los Angeles or on the New Jersey Turnpike, you might know a thing or two about road rage. Now put yourself behind the wheel of a 3,500-pound stock car with 750 horses revolving around a track at 200 miles per hour with 42 people wanting nothing more than to beat you.

Here’s a short list of some of NASCAR’s greatest rivalries, and as you can guess, some get under each other’s skin more regularly than others.

5. Kevin Harvick vs. Greg BiffleTop5Rivalries-revised-1

There was a time when Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, was about as hotheaded as Anger in the Pixar movie Inside Out. He has mellowed somewhat in recent years, but there was a time when he would jump off the roof of a car in an effort to strangle Greg Biffle.

Seriously.

Harvick took umbrage at Biffle’s racing at Bristol in 2001. After the race, Harvick took a page out of the WWE playbook and flew after Biffle. Harvick said in Florida Today back in 2003:

I enjoy controversy. I enjoy rivalries. I sometimes wonder if I don’t create more controversy in my life because I enjoy it. Without the rivalries and the controversy, I don’t think anybody would show up… . People come for the excitement and part of the excitement is the rivalry, the close racing and unfortunately, the crashes. You have to enjoy it from all aspects. I enjoy that more than I think I enjoy anything. The controversy and the rivalry.

Both drivers have lost some of that edge, but at one point this was about as fiery a rivalry as there was in the sport.

4. Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards

The acid in this rivalry was tempered this year when Carl Edwards signed on as the fourth Joe Gibbs Racing car. Go back just a few years and Kyle “Rowdy” Busch would have wanted little to do with Edwards at all.

Back in 2008, Busch tried to body slam Edwards after the race at Bristol Motor Speedway after taking umbrage with Edwards’ tactics during the race. The two spat words that upped the level of acrimony.

That same year, Busch edged Edwards at Dover as the pair finished one-two. In 2010, Busch won again with Edwards back in ninth.

Now they’re teammates, but that doesn’t mean Busch is immune to doing anything to win. After all Busch went through this season, he’ll stop at nothing to advance in the Chase and that could even mean launching his teammate—and former rival—into the wall at Dover.

3. Matt Kenseth vs. Everyone

Matt Kenseth has had great success at Dover and it could be so much better. He does have two wins, but it’s those 15 top fives that must get under Kenseth’s skin.

Many of those top fives came in races where Jimmie Johnson won, but it’s others who have shown just enough speed to send Kenseth back to the garage a loser. In 2014, he finished fifth and third in both Dover races. He finished third in the Dover spring race in 2012. Back in 2011, he took fifth in the fall race and won the spring race.

Were it not for Johnson’s record 10 wins, maybe we’d be talking about Kenseth as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Dover. His bones to pick come at the hands of several other drivers, most of whom get the best of him in the final laps at Dover.

2. Top5Rivalries-revised-2Jimmie Johnson vs. Kevin Harvick

These two drivers are flat-out dominant. Jimmie Johnson has six Sprint Cup championships and Kevin Harvick is the defending winner.

The two practically swap places on 1.5-mile tracks, but they also lock horns at Dover as well. Just this past May at Dover’s spring race, Johnson won his record 10th race at the Monster Mile with Harvick finishing in second place in the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks.

Back in 2012, Johnson edged Harvick for the first time. Harvick has never won at Dover but does have four top fives and 13 top 10s. So long as Johnson remains in the mix, Harvick will have a hard time getting past and taking that checkered flag.

Brad Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon

In today’s NASCAR landscape, there aren’t many true rivalries. So many of the drivers are far too polished, afraid to offend a sponsor and lose that lifeline of money that helps fund their entire team.Top5Rivalries-revised - looks good-3

Occasionally there are dustups that morph into so much more. Take last year’s fall race at Texas Motor Speedway when Brad Keselowski slipped in between cars and subsequently cut Jeff Gordon’s tire. It led to a melee on pit road between Gordon’s team and Keselowski’s and ultimately cost Gordon a chance at a fifth career Sprint Cup.

Gordon said after that race:

Out of nowhere I just got slammed by the 2, and I cut my left rear tire. I mean he’s a dips–t. The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship. I’m just sick and tired of it. We had the car. We had the position. He gets himself in these situations and as far as I’m concerned he’s got to pay the consequences. I’m going to race him the same way he races me. That kind of stuff is just uncalled for. To them, it’s just a racing incident, but to me it’s a bunch of crap.

Kez won the Sprint Cup in 2012 and doesn’t hold back. In this case, neither did Gordon.

Back in 2012, Kez won the fall Dover race with Gordon in second place. In 2014, Gordon won the fall race with Keselowski in second, so this rivalry could carry itself into this year’s Contender Round through Dover.

Immerse yourself in the heat of rivalry when NASCAR returns to Dover International Speedway Oct. 2 to 4. Visit doverspeedway.com for ticket packages.

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