A new rivalry was born during last Sunday’s STP 500 after former champions, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch, tangled not once but twice.
The tension between the two began on lap 43 when the leaders were making pit stops during NASCAR’s competition caution. During pit stops, Keselowski left his pit stall and made contact with Kasey Kahne who was coming into his pit pox. While trying to avoid further damage, Keselowski swerved to Busch’s left door as he was passing through. The contact resulted in severe damage for Keselowski’s front end, along with cosmetic damage to Busch’s left-side door.
With the damage being too severe for minor fixes, Keselowski was forced to the garage where he lost more than 30 laps as the crew made crash repairs. On the other hand, Busch only needed minor repairs to continue in the race.
“Typical Martinsville stuff. It’s lap 50 (and) everybody’s gotta give and take on the racetrack and on pit road,” Keselowski said while his car was getting repairs. “Kurt just accelerated and drove through us… I’m telling you, man. I’m getting tired of his recklessness.”
The action between the two only got more intense when Keselowski returned to the track.
Once Keselowski found Busch once again, Keselowski hounded Busch for about 20 laps where the only things that weren’t exchanged between the two were each other’s phone numbers.
“Yeah, I can’t believe he overreacted and he’s as upset as he is,” Busch after the race. “The 5 car (Kasey Kahne) was trying to pull into his box. Brad ran into the back of him. I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbers our left-side door, and it’s like, OK, accidents happen on pit road. It’s congested.
“It’s not a place to race, because of all the pit crew guys down there and I didn’t think much of it, and then once we were back out running, he targeted us. He was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires. That’s a no-fly zone. That’s a punk-ass move and he will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Busch was able to stage a remarkable comeback as he charged from deep in the pack to pass Jimmie Johnson, twice, in the final 30 laps to win his first race for Stewart-Haas Racing, which snapped an 83-race winless streak. Meanwhile, Keselowski limped home with a 36th place finish – his worst finish of the season.
Now, it seems that this rivalry won’t subside anytime soon as Keselowski hinted that the two have had similar issues in the past.
“Once or twice when it happens you go, ‘Oh, it happens,’ but when it happens repeatedly then you just realize who the person is that’s at fault and you just have to make sure that you show them you’re not gonna take that, and I’m not gonna take that,” Keselowski said. “I know this 2 team is not gonna take it. We had a race-winning car today, instead we finished 30-whatever with the whole front end tore off of it. That’s inexcusable and I’m not gonna put up with that.”
Historic Importance of NASCAR Rivalries
Now, when rivalries develop during the season some people dislike seeing talented drivers in good equipment target each other in upcoming races, citing that it’s not healthy for them, their teams or the sport.
Rivalries has been a major part of NASCAR since the early days.
Who doesn’t remember or hear stories about the battles than Richard Petty and David Pearson had in the 1970s? How about Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip in the 1980s? Or Jeff Gordon versus Rusty Wallace in the late 1990s?
Rivalries bring out raw emotions in drivers and crews. It shows the fans that these individuals are not just talented racers, they are also human and will not put up with any wrongdoing.
Rivalries in NASCAR is the one intangible that will always bring the fans back to the track because it’s the one element that neither NASCAR nor the teams can truly control. It is a soap opera that begins with racing and settles out through racing.
Now, there is a fine line to dealing with rivalries.
Intentionally wrecking a rival driver at 180 mph will and should never be tolerated by NASCAR. There are too many risks that come with it, most of them involving fatal consequences.
But rubbing fenders amongst rivals (and even friends) while racing in close quarters has been rooted into NASCAR from the first moment racecars raced on Daytona Beach in the late 1940s.
In a season where a new points system is the main topic and winning has become the ultimate premium, creating new rivalries won’t hamper the sport but rather help it. It will help push drivers to not just beat their rivals for the win, but beat them at their own game.
And rivalries help remind everyone – both old and new school – how this sport was founded.
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