Ask any fan of sport. Rivals add a dimension that makes an event more than a “game.”
Where would baseball be without Yankees vs. Red Sox? Where would basketball be without Lakers vs. Celtics? Where would football be without Steelers vs. Cowboys, Giants vs. Eagles, or Packers vs. Bears?
The answer to those questions is “nowhere.”
Sure, those sports would have some form of popularity, but team (and player) rivalries add a dimension the simple game can’t: emotion on the part of players and fans.
In recent years, NASCAR has struggled to have a consistent driver rivalry. Through the 1990’s, there was Jeff Gordon vs. Dale Earnhardt, but that one never involved either disliking the other (they even went into business together) and was more between the fans than the drivers.
Something has been missing from NASCAR. It’s that competition (and emotion) between two drivers who simply don’t like each other. While it’s understood that such a thing would have to be kept under reasonable control (you can’t have one crash the other at 200+ mph), having a rivalry between drivers does nothing but launch a sport to a new level.
However, NASCAR may see an end to the lack of rivalries (for this season at least). Enter Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards to save the day.
First, look at each driver’s contrasting image.
Carl Edwards is the stereotypical “boy scout.” He’s clean cut, well-spoken, and never publicly criticizes his team. A handsome man to boot, Edwards is the driver every sponsor wants and every fan wants to cheer for. His six wins also mean he’s pretty good behind the wheel.
Then, there’s Kyle Busch: the brash daredevil. Throwing caution to the wind, he is more than willing to rough up a driver on the track to gain position (see Richmond in May).
He is the first driver since Dale Earnhardt to willingly wear the black hat and not be bothered by it; he simply goes about his business as he would, without caring how fans see him.
His confident, yet borderline cocky, attitude has a habit of rubbing fans the wrong way as few enjoy hearing someone toot his own horn. Nevertheless, Busch has backed everything up with eight wins and the lead in the current standings.
The emerging rivalry between the two has been on the rise during the summer. Busch’s closest competition this year has been from Edwards, who is mounting a charge to take the top seed in The Chase from him.
Up until Bristol, this rivalry seemed to like the one between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt: competitive, but friendly (and who wants that?).
However, Saturday night’s race at the Bristol Coliseum (sorry Bristol Motor Speedway) saw their attitudes toward each other change.
Everyone knew Busch wasn’t happy about Edwards bumping him and saw his immediate attempt to retaliate. However, his attempt failed and he had to settle for second while Edwards took the win.
The race’s conclusion saw one more attempt to retaliate, as Busch tried to body slam Edwards off turn two after the race ended, but he got spun in the process (which made me laugh) and was sent to the NASCAR Hauler for his troubles.
The choice words each had for the other tell us that there’s also something to this we hadn’t seen. Busch said post-race, “We’ll race him that way in The Chase if that’s the way he wants to race,” which came after a “Mr. Ed” comment about Edwards “boy scout” nature.
Edwards fought back saying, “I asked myself ‘Would he do that to me?’ And he has before. So that’s the way it goes.” He later mentioned the Richmond Nationwide Series race back in May, in he which he says Busch “pile drove” him during the race.
You really do have to love two drivers who are mad at each other.
The contrasting styles between the two drivers would already make a good rivalry. Now, their apparent dislike for each other could mean this will go on for a while longer.
At any rate, NASCAR could only benefit from the Busch—Edwards competition. In the years of The Chase, not one has seen two drivers who dislike each other battle for a championship.
This time around, things should be quite different.
Good luck to you Mr. Edwards and Mr. Busch. And please, keep this up for the next couple of seasons; everyone loves a good rivalry between two “not so friendly” friends.