Feelings Might Get Hurt Being Both Friends and Competitors in NASCAR

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer INovember 16, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 11: (L-R) Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, talks with Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 11, 2008 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

A lot of relationships are formed in NASCAR racing.

Within teams they become family, which can even be said for the entire series. Everyone looks out for one another and spends time away from the track together.

However, everyone in NASCAR is also a competitor.

They all want to win and they’ll beat their friends and family to get to victory lane and win a championship.

Along the way, bumps and nudges will be exchanged. Apologies might be handed out after a hard day of work or the relationship could be strained for a couple of days while the wounds heal.

But eventually everyone kisses and makes up.

After Sunday’s event in Phoenix two more good friends might have to do that.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun himself in turn four on lap 164 he collected seven other cars, including Tony Stewart.

Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart have always gotten along on an off the track. They’ve hung out, spoke on each other’s behalf in their DVD specials, Stewart insulted DEI letting Earnhardt Jr. leave, and on Sunday’s they’ll draft together at restrictor plate tracks.

But at Phoenix, Stewart could care less.

After the incident Stewart said on his team radio about Earnhardt Jr., “He’s a no talent son of a [expletive].”

Ouch, guess Earnhardt Jr. won’t be getting a holiday card.

The Stewart-Earnhardt Jr. dust up is just another chapter in the long book of friends on the racetrack that have gotten together and in the heat of the moment wanted to strangle each other.

No one likes to lose.

While Jeff Gordon has never publicly admitted that he’s wanted to strangle friend and teammate Jimmie Johnson, he has recently admitted that their friendship is starting to take a turn.

Just like Stewart and Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Johnson are two really good friends on and off the track. Johnson actually owes his Sprint Cup career and wife, to Gordon.

It was Gordon who went to Rick Hendrick and told the man to hire Johnson in 2001 after Johnson was on the verge of losing his Nationwide Series ride.

Later, Gordon introduced Johnson to Chandra and the two are now happily married, after Gordon was the best man in their wedding.

For the past few years everything’s been all well and dandy in the Gordon-Johnson relationship. That was until this year’s Chase started and Johnson began to pull away to his fourth Sprint Cup title.

That prompted Gordon to tell the media, “It’s not easy being in my shoes, is it? Jimmie and I are always going to be really good friends, but we might be better friends 15 or 20 years from now.”

And the reason isn’t shocking, just as earlier mentioned; everyone in NASCAR wants to win. Gordon is no different and he doesn’t like losing to a man that he hired.

“Right now, I’m a competitor,” Gordon said.  “Like every other competitor out there, that wants to beat him.”

Since Gordon hired Johnson in 2001, he hasn’t won a championship. Johnson has gone on to win three straight, and is on the verge of four, which would also tie Gordon’s title number.

When Johnson won his second cup in 2007, he did so by beating Gordon.

“It’s definitely affected our friendship, there’s no doubt about it,” Gordon continued. “We’re competitors on the race track. I’m not going to go over and pat him on the back and say how great he is and ‘I love you, man’ when I really want to beat him.”

More and more though, Gordon has to go to victory lane since Johnson is nearly unstoppable.

“There have definitely been some challenging moments and days. It gets harder to go to victory lane and congratulate them when you want it as badly for yourself.”

Kevin Harvick wanted a win pretty bad earlier this year in the Camping World Truck Series.

Late in the going he was running third behind the truck he owned, Ron Hornaday, and thought that he was faster.

When he asked Hornaday to let him go by, and Hornaday didn’t, the two met on pit road after the race was over to discuss it. Harvick was clearly upset, but Hornaday didn’t want to lose any more points for the championship he was trying to win.

Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were trying to win at Martinsville in 2007 when they apparently got together on the track, which Edwards didn't appreciate.

After the race had ended, Edwards went over to his teammate on pit road during Kenseth’s interview. The two said, according to reporter Bob Dillner, some not so nice things to each other before Edwards looked like he was going to punch Kenseth.

He raised his fist and half swung before pulling back and walking away. No one really knows whether the two were joking or not.

It took them a few weeks to eventually work things out. 

But there was no joking in the Busch household after the Sprint All-Star race in May of 2007 after the two brothers got together.

During the event Kyle went to the inside of his older brother in turn one, clipped the apron and shot up into the side of Kurt. The result was the two hitting the wall and ending their chances at a million dollar payday.

Afterward Kurt said that he wouldn’t be eating Kellogg’s [Kyle’s sponsor at the time] anytime soon. “I was waiting for the day when we got together,” he said.

“And we did, and we were racing for a million bucks...so that was a bummer to have my little brother pull that move on me.”

It was later revealed that two didn’t talk much for the rest of the season and it took their grandmother to get them to work things out.

Said Kyle of the two being in the same room together at Christmas, “It was a little edgy to begin with because that was about the first time we'd ever sat down together.”

"The more it kind of went, the more it kind of got back to normal and friendly and whatever. By the end of the night we were playing games and everything anyway."

Sports and the competition bring out the best in everyone.

NASCAR is no different as 43 men strap in each Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and try to stomp the other competitors into the ground.

When the helmets go on it’s all for one, it doesn’t matter that they may have had dinner together the night before.

When the helmets are on, everyone else is the enemy.

When the helmets are off though, they will all rally around each other in a time of need or spend spare time hunting in the woods together. Elliott Sadler and Clint Bowyer spent time talking in the garage area at Martinsville talking about their recent trips.

Drivers might even take a vacation as a group to the tropics in the off-season.

It’s one big family in NASCAR.

From the drivers, to crews, their owners, officials, announcers, and even the millions of fans.

They all love NASCAR, they all love winning, and once they’re done beating each other, they’ll laugh about it and move on.

Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will soon be back to joking around on pit road, probably as soon as next weekend, once the adrenaline from Sunday’s race wears off.

If not, Daytona will be just around the corner.

And there’s no better place to repair a broken friendship than at the place where you need friends the most. 


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