NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 20 Biggest Rivalries In NASCAR History

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2010

NASCAR Sprint Cup: The 20 Biggest Rivalries In NASCAR History

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    photo credit: images
    photo credit: images

    NASCAR Sprint Cup races have two givens: someone will win and there will be some controversy between drivers or about a race related issue.

    Back in the day, there were dominant drivers who consistently battled one another week after week and track after track.  During that time, there would be maybe four to six drivers who could contend for the win.  There has been an evolution in rivalries because of new technology, improved safety, high-dollar sponsorship and the much higher level of competitiveness among the teams.

    In the days when Lee Petty dominated, only a few cars would finish on the lead lap.  Ned Jarrett won the 1965 Southern 500 at Darlington by 14 laps.

    Drivers of the past would sometimes tangle on the track then jump from their cars and begin swinging at one another in the infield.  The fear of financial penalties and loss of points was not a deterrent like it is today, nor was the concern about upsetting sponsors an issue. 

    Competition is much closer now with most of the cars finishing on the lead lap.  The rivalries don't continue from season to season like they used to.  Today drivers don't forget when they have been wronged on the track, but they don't make their issues with another driver quite as obvious once the incident is over.

    In the racing we see today, drivers with a short fuse, more intense competition, lingering paybacks and simple disrespect can cause some chaotic situation to break out at any given moment during a race or even after the race.

    Rivalries can rear their heads when least expected, especially with the "Boys, have at it," green-white-checkers and double-file restarts fueling the flames of competition.  Now it has become more of the confrontation of the week as opposed to long-standing rivalries of the past.

    In no particular order, let's take a look at some of NASCAR's greatest rivalries and some that affected the sport, but that may seem unexpected on this list.

No. 20: Kyle Busch Vs. The Rest of The Field

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    MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 22:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, stands in the garage prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 22, 2010 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Joh
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Kyle Busch moved into the top-tier of NASCAR in 2004 driving for Hendrick Motorsports.  Little did anyone know how the young man would storm the sport with his talent, record wins, and confrontations with other drivers.

    The brash young man ran in the top-three series of NASCAR and holds the record for the most wins, which is 21 in one season.

    Currently Busch drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and his record shows 19 wins, 103 top 10's and seven poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.  Though he finished eighth in the point standings this year, he is beginning to show maturity that eluded the 25-year-old in previous seasons.

    Busch is perhaps one of the most talented drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but he has had battles on and off the track with many of his fellow competitors.  It was not unusual to see Busch stomp out of sight, beyond the reach of media, when he felt he was wronged by another driver or NASCAR rules.

    When Denny Hamlin crossed him, he marched off to Hamlin's hauler to await his arrival after the race.  That is but one example of his many brash actions.  Controversy is a friend to Busch and he seems to thrive on it, but regardless of whether you love him or hate him as a driver, you must recognize his talent as a racer.

    We have not seen the end of his encounters with his peers and maybe that is a very good thing for NASCAR. 

No. 19: Ford Vs. Chevy

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    photo credit: images
    photo credit: images

    Though the Hudson Hornets, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Chrysler products and even Bobby Allison's Matador have won many races in NASCAR history, it is the battle of the Fords and Chevys that triggers the most rivalry.

    It always seemed fans could choose a Ford driver or a Chevy driver, but shame on them if they supported both.

    The Ford versus Chevy battle still exists with manufacturers, NASCAR teams, and fans, but the mix of brands currently used in racing includes the once unimaginable foreign name of Toyota, which is a major player in the sport of NASCAR.

    Drivers at one time felt a loyalty to the brand of racing machine they drove, but now drivers change teams and drive Fords, Chevys, Dodges and Toyotas.  Fans find themselves following the driver, though he may not be behind the wheel of their favorite brand of automobile.

No. 18: Cale Yarborough Vs. The Allisons

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    photo credit: images
    photo credit: images

    In 1979, the Daytona 500 was broadcast live for the first time on television.  Little did fans at the track and viewers know just how exciting the end of the race would be.

    Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough with a half lap remaining.  The two bumped several times and then took each other out when they wrecked.

    Richard Petty won the race.  Donnie Allison and Yarborough started throwing punches in the infield when Bobby Allison joined in the melee.

    Yarborough and the Allisons were the first NASCAR drivers to participate in a live fist fight on televison and it was just the beginning of many more physical encounters between drivers.

No. 17: Junior Johnson Vs. Moonshining

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 13:   NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson laughs during NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on October 13, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Junior Johnson ran moonshine as a young man in the rural south, much like many other future racers, but he became a legend for his innovative ways of outwitting police and federal agents with his driving skills.

    Johnson invented the "bootleg turn" which enabled him to make a 180-degree turn and head down the road in the opposite direction.  It is rumored he used police sirens and lights to run roadblocks.

    Though he was a pro at running moonshine and had gained fame doing so, he gave it up to use his skills racing in NASCAR during 1955.  Johnson did serve 11 months of a longer sentence for moonshining in 1956, but quickly returned to NASCAR and his winning ways.

    Johnson honed his skills in an illegal business, but it made him the great driver/owner who was inducted into the first class at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

No. 16: Dale Earnhardt Vs. Jeff Gordon

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    18 Feb 2001: Dale Earnhardt in the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet dices with Jeff Gordon in the #24 DuPont Chevrolet during the NASCAR Winston Cup Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.  DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: J
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon burst into NASCAR's top-tier of racing when Dale Earnhardt was busy winning his NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) championships.

    Earnhardt had won NASCAR Cup titles in 1993 and 1994 when the clean-cut kid, Gordon, beat him by 34 points for the championship in 1995.

    That year at the NASCAR Awards Banquet, Gordon toasted Earnhardt with a glass of milk because the seven-time champion had said he was too young to drink champagne.

    Though the two drivers raced hard against one another, it appeared the torch had been passed to a new generation when Gordon got that first title.  Earnhardt and Gordon were actually friends and business partners.

No. 15: Bill France Vs. Professional Drivers Association

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    photo credit:
    photo credit:

    At the inaugural Talladega 500, a group of drivers headed by Richard Petty formed the Professional Drivers Association.  The drivers felt the tires were inadequate for the speeds in excess of 200 mph on the new high-banked racing surface.

    Most of NASCAR's top-tier drivers left the track, but Bill France never backed down.  He used the remaining drivers and drivers from a race held the previous day to put on a show that proved the tires were safe and allowed the fans to witness the inaugural Talladega 500. 

    The Professional Drivers Association soon disbanded.

No. 14: Jeff Gordon Vs. Jimmie Johnson

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    TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 29:  Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, talks with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet, in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladeg
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon was a four-time NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) champion, having won titles in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001 for Hendrick Motorsports.

    In 2002, he brought Jimmie Johnson to Hendrick Motorsports and secured partial ownership of his car along with Rick Hendrick.

    Jimmie Johnson has now surpassed Gordon with his five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles and Gordon has failed to win a title since Johnson joined HMS.  Gordon has had difficulty winning during the past two years.

    This season his frustration with Johnson seemed to be manifesting itself with on track racing incidents between the two drivers.  Earlier this year, a very mad Gordon said: "The No. 48 is really testing my patience."

    Though the two shared the same shop at Hendrick Motorsports, it seemed Johnson's good fortune was not rubbing off on his mentor Gordon.  Now Gordon has been moved to another shop at Hendrick with driver, Mark Martin.  It will be interesting to see the dynamics of Johnson and Gordon, as the driver of the No. 24 seeks his fifth championship title once again.

No. 13: Petty Enterprises Vs. Wood Brothers Racing

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    Leonard Wood, Barney Hall and David Pearson
    Leonard Wood, Barney Hall and David PearsonRusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Wood Brothers Racing and Richard Petty Enterprises were two of the longest running racing enterprises in NASCAR.  David Pearson, in the famous No. 21, was the most recognized driver for the Wood Brothers and, of course, Richard Petty was the legendary driver of car No. 43 for Petty Enterprises.

    Both organizations were born of family.  Lee Petty began his career as a NASCAR driver at age 35.  Glen Wood decided to go racing with his brother, Leonard, as his crew chief some 60 years ago.

    Today Wood Brothers Racing is run by Glen's sons and Richard Petty recently regained control of Richard Petty Motorsports.

No. 12 Dale Earnhardt Vs. Old School NASCAR

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    15 Feb 1998: Dale Earnhardt celebrates after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.
    David Taylor/Getty Images

    For 20 years Dale Earnhardt tried to win the Daytona 500.  It should have been so easy because he had more overall victories at Daytona International Speedway than any other driver.

    He came so close, with the most recognized failure to win in 1990.  He was leading the race comfortably when a piece of debris caused him to blow a tire on the final lap.

    Finally the drought ended in 1998 when Earnhardt won the Daytona 500.  It was an emotional win with every team coming out on pit road to congratulate him.

No. 11: Carl Edwards Vs. Brad Keselowski

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    ATLANTA - MARCH 07:  The wrecked #12 Penske Dodge, driven by Brad Keselowski, sits in the garage after an incident on tack during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 7, 2010 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Geof
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski have not played well together in NASCAR, having had many encounters, some of which have turned violent on the track.

    In 2009, Keselowski turned Edwards at Talladega and the car went airborne into the catch fence, injuring spectators.

    At Atlanta Motor Speedway this past spring, the two drivers bumped each other early in the race resulting in Edwards colliding with Joey Logano.

    Keselowski was having a strong run as Edwards crew attempted to repair his car.  After 150 laps in the garage area,  Edwards pulled out on the track and took deliberate aim at Keselowski, who was looking to finish in the top-five.

    Keselowki's car went airborne and landed on its roof.  Edwards did not deny his intent to wreck Keselowski, only that he didn't mean for him to go airborne.

No. 10 Bruton Smith Vs. The France Family

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 16:  Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner/CEO Bruton Smith speaks to the media during a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway on April 16, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Bill France Racing Inc. morphed into Daytona International Speedway Corporation and in 1957 they contracted for the land to build Daytona International Speedway.

    In 1968 when Bill France decided to build Talladega Superspeedway, he changed the name to reflect the vision he saw with racing.  Today ISC owns 12 tracks that host in excess of half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

    Bruton Smith and legendary driver Curtis Turner built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959.  Bankruptcy later followed and a local businessman handled operation of the track.  In the early 70s, Smith regained control of the track and formed Speedway Motorsports Inc. which currently owns eight NASCAR tracks that host most of the remaining Cup races other than those held at the few privately-owned tracks.

    It has always been a rivalry between the two companies.  In one way or another, Smith would try to overshadow the facilities owned by the France family at his racing venues.

No. 9 Bill France Vs. Teamsters Union

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    photo credit:  Curtis Turner Museum
    photo credit: Curtis Turner Museum

    Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner and Tim Flock attempted to unionize the drivers through the Teamsters who were trying to legalize gambling on races.

    Turner attempted to borrow money from them for the building of Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Bill France suspended the three drivers for life.  Turner and Roberts eventually were reinstated, but Flock never raced again.

No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Vs. Geoff Bodine

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Geoff Bodine driver of the #64 Toyota during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 7, 2009 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images fo
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    The battle between Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine began in the mid-80s and accelerated in 1986 when Earnhardt ran out of gas during the Daytona 500 and Bodine won.

    The two furiously bumped each other around for years and their dislike for one another reportedly included not speaking.  Their actions on the track were fierce enough to be the basis for the movie Days of Thunder.

    As recreated in the movie, Bill France sat them down at a dinner in Daytona Beach and explained, as only he could do, that the sport did not need a nasty feud like Petty and Allison had.

No. 7: Bobby Allison Vs. Junior Johnson

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    CONCORD, NC - MAY 24:  NASCAR legend Bobby Allison poses in the #12 Car in the garage area prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 24, 2009 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Bobby Allison was a driver for Junior Johnson and they continually butted heads about who knew what was best for the racecar.

    Eventually the two stopped speaking to each other and Allison's crew chief, Herb Nab, became the translator for them.

    Allison developed a front-steer chassis that he wanted to use and Johnson refused.  It is reported that as the three men stood in Johnson's shop, Allison said, "Herb, tell Junior to kiss my ass."

No. 6: Jimmy Spencer Vs. Kurt Busch

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    CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 9:  Jimmy Spencer driver of the #7 Sirius Satellite Dodge Intrepid during qualifying for the UAW-GM 500 October 9, 2003 at Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Jimmy Spencer was a champion in the NASCAR Modified Division, but he was never considered a premier driver in NASCAR's Cup series.  Many considered him a bully who found trouble even when none existed on the racing circuit.

    During Kurt Busch's rookie year in NASCAR's top tier, he felt he was crashed by Spencer at a race in Phoenix.  Later at Bristol, Busch made a payback bump-and-run pass on Spencer while on his way to his first win.

    The feud continued into 2003 with the two trading paint several times. After an August race that year, Busch claimed to have run out of gas ironically behind Spencer's hauler.  Spencer pulled up and crashed into Busch's rear bumper.  He then exited his car, walked to Busch's driver's door and exchanged expletives, then punched Busch through the window.

    The two had the potential for a great rivalry because of their mutual dislike for one another.  At the time Spencer was 45 years old and his career as a driver was winding down, so the battle between the two just faded away. 

No. 5: Dale Earnhardt Vs. Old School NASCAR

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    Photo Credit: images
    Photo Credit: images

    Dale Earnhardt was the wild child who roared into NASCAR's top-tier series in the mid 70s, becoming NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1979 and winning his first of seven championship titles in 1980.

    There were few drivers Earnhardt failed to anger, at one time or another, with his wild abandon and daring moves on the track.  He would not hesitate to tear up equipment on his way to the front.  His style of driving was a bit of racing culture shock to the established top-tier drivers of that time.

    Earnhardt continued his wild ways when, in 1986 at Richmond, he had led most of the race and then Darrell Waltrip passed him.  Earnhardt clipped Waltrip and caused a massive pile-up that included the top four contenders along with he and Waltrip.

    Junior Johnson, Waltrip's crew chief implied after the race that his reckless driving was akin to pointing a gun and "pulling the trigger" on his driver.  Waltrip added, " He is not choosy.  He will run over anybody.  He tried to kill me."

    Earnhardt went on to earn the nickname of the "Intimidator," but he remained aggressive throughout his career.  To his credit, he gained the respect of most drivers in the garage and the love of a huge legion of fans.

    Earnhardt left us all too soon in the fatal crash at Daytona in 2001.

    Quotes courtesy of

No. 4: Richard Petty Vs. Bobby Allison

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    WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 06:  Team owner Richard Petty stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen on August 6, 2010 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    The battle between Richard Petty and Bobby Allison rivaled that of Petty and Pearson.

    In the late 60s and early 70s, the feuding mounted to the boiling point in 1972 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.  The two traded paint throughout the race, but in the final laps, fans held their breath as they watched the intensity of the battle between the two.

    Petty was leading and shut off Allison by using a lapped car.  Petty and Allison hit the wall, but kept going.  Allison passed Petty and took the lead, but Petty came right back with the two cars once again slamming the wall.

    Allison and Petty were both able to recover and Allison thought he would win the race when the smashed car of Petty drove to the inside of him.  Though the cars collided yet again, Petty won the race.

    In a quote on Petty said, "He could have put me in the boondocks.  He is playing with my life out there.  That I don't like."

No. 3: Cale Yarborough Vs. Darrell Waltrip

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    DARLINGTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 26:  NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough speaks to fans during the Darlington Historic Racing Festival on September 26, 2009 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)
    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Cale Yarborough was the only driver to have won three consecutive NASCAR Cup titles, in 1976, 1977, and 1978.  Several drivers tried to dethrone him, but Darrell Waltrip was the most verbal thorn in his side.

    It was Yarborough who nicknamed Waltrip "Jaws" for his constant derogatory remarks.  Waltrip then came up with the "Cale Scale" which he used to determine the ease with which he would beat the driver.

    Junior Johnson later replaced his driver, Yarborough, with Waltrip.  When Johnson wanted to spur Waltrip to run harder, he would call him "Cale."

No. 2: Bobby Isaac Vs. His Competitors

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    photo credit: images
    photo credit: images

    The North Carolina native began racing in 1956, but it took seven years to make it to the NASCAR Grand National (Sprint Cup) series.  He was the champion of the series in 1970 with his No. 71 K&K Dodge and legendary crew chief, Harry Hyde.

    Isaac had 37 wins to his credit in NASCAR's top-tier of racing, but in his earlier days he was hardly the most congenial driver.

    Isaac was quoted as saying, "I used to think fighting was part of the post-race show."  One morning he got a call from a man in Daytona Beach. The booming voice of Bill France said, "Bobby, we believe NASCAR can get along without you.  Now can you get along without NASCAR?"

    After that call, Isaac was no longer a problem driver at the tracks.  Unfortunately, during a race at Hickory Motor Speedway in 1977, he pulled on pit road and collapsed.  The 45-year old later died at the hospital from the heart attack he had suffered.

No. 1: Richard Petty Vs. David Pearson

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    photo credit:  Getty Images/
    photo credit: Getty Images/

    David Pearson and Richard Petty had great respect for each other, but also had one of the greatest rivalries in NASCAR history.

    During the 60s and 70s, it was common to see the two drivers running one and two at the end of a race.  The 1976 Daytona 500 was one of their most notable finishes.

    Petty led Pearson by several car lengths in the last lap.  Using the draft coming out of Turn 4, Pearson tried to slingshot around Petty, but both drifted high. As Petty tried to cut beneath him, they both crashed and went spinning into the infield.  Petty could not restart his engine, but Pearson kept his cool and with the clutch depressed, he kept the engine running.  He slowly took the battered car seen in the picture out of the infield and across the finish line to capture his only Daytona 500 win.