The Most Dysfunctional Relationships in NASCAR

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

The Most Dysfunctional Relationships in NASCAR

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    There's nothing friendly about NASCAR—drivers travel at higher speeds than we can fathom in a confined space while competing for millions of dollars and the chance to cross the finish line first. It's not exactly a Sunday cruise. 

    The sport is all about adrenaline and aggression, and as a result, it doesn't always attract the most, um, stable participants. And when a rare calm and congenial driver does come around, well, the stress of race day is enough to make anyone go crazy.

    As a result, there are a lot of complicated relationships in NASCAR. Nobody is immune—owners, sponsors, fans and, of course, the drivers, are all a part of the dramatics that make the Sprint Cup Series go around.  

    But, as always, some relationships are more thorny than others. Here's a list of teammates, competitors, legends, family members and romantic partners who are a part of the most dysfunctional relationships in NASCAR. 

Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch

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    You'd think it would be nice to have a brother in the Sprint Cup Series, but Kurt and Kyle Busch don't really make it seem that way. In fact, the two brothers don't even seem that close.

    The Busch brothers have had their fair share of dust-ups over the years, most notably a fight after they crashed at the 2007 All-Star Race that kept them from speaking for a lengthy period of time.

    Both Kurt and Kyle have attracted their fair share of controversy throughout the years, and so they often have to stay away from each other in the public eye, likely to appease their sponsors. However, it seems they put the distance in their private lives as well. 

    Kurt has been in the news recently due to accusations of domestic violence, and Kyle was angry when media members like Keith Olbermann confused the two brothers when reporting on the story.

    According to reports by Jordan Bianchi of SB Nation, it doesn't sound like Kyle has been offering his brother familial support during this difficult time: 

    Kyle has purposely kept his distance and hasn't spoken with Kurt recently, nor does he know how his brother is handling the situation.

    "Couldn't tell you, I don't talk to him," said Kyle when asked how Kurt was doing. "Dead serious. Ask him yourself."

    "Obviously, it's got to be painful for him and you don't ever want to see anybody go through this sort of thing. Besides not wanting to get too far involved in it, that's about all I want to say."

    It seems like the Busch brothers are the type that put racing above everything, including their own relationship. That leaves a lot of room for dysfunction.

Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano

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    There are a lot of NASCAR drivers who don't like each other, but we're highlighting the tension between Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano both because they were two of the best drivers in 2014 and because it involves their wives.

    The Shake and Bake crew at recapped the 2010 incident that originally put the dysfunction in this relationship: 

    In the closing laps of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at Pocono Raceway in 2010, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were battling hard for the fifth spot when the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion gave a nudge and sent the young driver sliding up the track before spinning out. Denny Hamlin would go on to win the race, but the real fireworks took place on pit road when Logano, urged on by his father, confronted Harvick and his crew. 

    The tempers boiled over into Logano's post-race interview, where he said of Harvick, 'It's probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.'

    It's taken time, but the two have recently been able to laugh at that controversy—as DeLana Harvick's wedding gift to Joey Logano's new wife in the offseason proved. 

    However, the tension between the drivers remains. Harvick was unhappy with the fact that Logano helped push his teammate, Brad Keselowski, to the win at Talladega during the Chase. When the two were in the final four headed into Homestead, Harvick clearly saw Logano as his biggest competitor and played some "mind games" with the 24-year-old.

    Logano took it in stride, though. "[W]hen you have one of the threats to win the championship along with yourself trying to play head games with you, it means they're nervous about you and I think that's kind of cool," he said, according to Bob Pockrass of Sporting News

    This is a pretty good-natured tiff, and it'll be fun to see how it plays out in the years to come.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Some of the most fraught relationships in NASCAR are the ones between a driver and his or her crew chief, which is probably why so few of these partnerships are long-lasting ones.

    But Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, have stood the test of time, working together since Johnson's rookie Sprint Cup season in 2002.

    They got off to a rocky start, and in 2005, Johnson and Knaus were having so many communication problems that team owner Rick Hendrick had to stage an intervention. 

    The duo listened to Mr. Hendrick and stuck out the hard times, and since then they have won six championships. But it's not all smooth sailing—Johnson spoke about their partnership during a rocky patch last fall, as reported by Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer:

    Chad and I, in our relationship, have had peaks and valleys. We've had times where there has been plenty of frustration on the radio. But who we are and what we are as a team and the way our relationship works and us moving forward ... things are still as they have always been.

    If it isn't fun, I'm sure people hear plenty of colorful things from drivers and crew chiefs during the course of a race.

    Despite last season's frustrations, Johnson has pledged his loyalty to Knaus until Knaus decides that he's had enough of the life of a crew chief. Until then, we'll all get to hear how this dysfunctional relationship plays out over the radio. 

Tony Stewart and Richard Petty

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    Ric Feld/Associated Press

    Two legends of racing are in a feud over a girl—but it's not what you think.

    The relationship between Richard Petty and Tony Stewart—or The King and Smoke, if you will—got complicated when Petty was asked the site if he thought that Danica Patrick could win a Sprint Cup race.

    "(Only) if everybody else stayed home," he said.

    Well, Patrick avoided responding to Petty, but her team co-owner, Stewart, didn't show the same restraint. 

    As reported by Jeff Gluck of USA Today, Stewart fired back on the program Fast Talk by saying that Petty should race Patrick and claimed that Petty only had so much success when he was a driver because he had superior cars:

    "I think that (a race) would settle it once and for all — maybe get him to shut up a little bit, too," Stewart said. "... I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I'll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance. He can drive one of my 14 cars, I don't care."

    When moderator Doug Rice suggested Patrick should take the checkered flag to Petty for an autograph if she ever won, Stewart immediately went a step further.

    "If I were her, I'd take if over there and cram it up his (butt)," Stewart said as the crowd erupted. "But that's just me."

    Petty accepted the challenge, but nothing has developed since. There's no doubt that these two Hall of Famers have respect for each other and their accomplishments, but they certainly have different views on where Patrick fits into the future of racing. 

    Still, these two greats make dysfunction seem rather petty—pun intended.

Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Speaking of Patrick, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about one of the most high-profile relationships in NASCAR, the one she has with her boyfriend, fellow Sprint Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    Sometimes a little dysfunction can be healthy, and that seems to be the case for this couple. Off the track, they seem to have a cozy little home life, but on the track, the two are nothing but competitors.

    Last year, Patrick wrote a piece for The Player's Tribune that highlighted their unconventional relationship: 

    Look, if it's crazy to want to go to sleep next to the person who ran your car off the road going 200 miles per hour earlier that day, then I'm certifiable. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a balls-to-the wall, go-hard-or-go-home, lift-only-when-you-see-God-twice kind of NASCAR driver. He's Ford. I'm Chevy. It's the Montagues and the Capulets. He's grits. I'm granola. We're the opposite in almost every way.

    After discussing their infamous crash and subsequent fight at Chicagoland Speedway last September, Patrick mused, "I don't really care what's normal and what's not. I have never lived my life asking that question, so why would I start now?"

    This is a couple that is able to function despite—or possibly because of—the dysfunction in their relationship. More power to them.

Brad Keselowski and His Fellow Drivers

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    Right now, there is no relationship in NASCAR more dysfunctional than the one between Brad Keselowski and all of his fellow drivers (excluding his Penske teammate Joey Logano, of course).

    NASCAR's bad boy ruffled a lot of feathers in 2014, particularly in the Chase, where he was at the center of two post-race fights. In Charlotte, he angered Matt Kenseth so much that the usually calm Kenseth jumped him between buses after the race. 

    Then, in November at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski tried to pass Jeff Gordon late in the race, and Gordon didn't give any position and ended up having his tire clipped and spinning out. After the race, thanks primarily to a push by Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Keselowski fought.

    Gordon and other drivers have claimed that it's Keselowski's lack of remorse for how his go-for-broke racing affects others that is really the problem. Keselowski, however, doesn't see a need to apologize, as reported by Jordan Bianchi of SB Nation:

    I hate it when other guys have bad days. But when it happens, sometimes it comes down to accountability. And I try to make it a point whenever I make an aggressive move or one is made upon me that that person has an opportunity to come away clean.

    If that person either does not take it or doesn't succeed at it, then I don't feel any fault or blame and don't see any need to apologize. As to the scenarios that have happened this year that others think I need to apologize for or have made it a point to say so through the media, they've been incidents where, quite honestly, they've made mistakes and they're unwilling to recognize them and I do not feel the need to apologize for someone else's mistake.

    Keselowski won six races in 2014, so he's clearly going to continue to be in the thick of things for years to come. He has success and a big following thanks to his aggressive racing style, but he's also lost a lot of goodwill because of it.

    It will be interesting to see how Keselowski's relationship with his competitors develops as the years go on. One thing is for sure: The dysfunction is here to stay.


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