At the head of NASCAR’s class for 2015 are a pair of 39-year old Californians and Sprint Cup champions- Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Go beyond that, you find that beyond their common successes and common backgrounds, this budding NASCAR rivalry is a study in contrast.
Jimmie Johnson is California cool. While the “vanilla” label is inaccurate, the six-time champion is cut from a similar cloth as such composed types as Terry Labonte and Matt Kenseth. He rarely loses his cool, and no matter where he qualifies, in business-like fashion, Johnson just picks off driver’s one-by-one, until he finds his way up front. Prior to Saturday’s win at Texas, the former off-road racer had a couple of rough finishes, but no one who knows the sport was buying the “maybe he’s just a mere mortal after all” narrative. The 48 crew tweaked and adjusted and provided Johnson a piece with which he could slice and dice to the checkered flag.
Harvick is the Bakersfield Burner. A mercurial sort- the defending Sprint Cup champion is more in line with fans who are drawn to a fiery driver likes Havick’s boss- Tony Stewart. Over the last year, the driver sarcastically called “Happy” has been hot in another sense: finishing first or second in nine of his last ten races, practically willing his way to the 2014 title. While chasing down the leader at Texas, Harvick employed the bump and run to clear Joey Logano from his path, and warned he wouldn’t hesitate to move Johnson from his path if the 48 elected to block.Does anyone doubt he would have done it? I don’t.
Harvick muscled his way through the field to take his shot at Johnson. Ultimately, the current champion brushed the wall in his pursuit of the six-time champ, and that late mishap cost Harvick his shot at catching Johnson. As both lead the series in wins, you get the feeling this may set the stage for a showdown between the 4 and the 48.
Should that be the case, the fans have a choice. What some fans call boring, other fans call cool. What other fans call a hard charger, others call a jerk. To each his (or her) own. By all accounts, the two have a good relationship. How might that be tested if the two find themselves side-by-side in a championship chase?
We may soon find out. This could shape up to be quite a NASCAR rivalry.