Rivalries Vs. Feuds

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The one year anniversary of the infamous Denny Hamlin- Joey Logano crash in Fontana raises questions of feuds and rivalries. In the mind of this observer, there’s a difference. One is good for NASCAR. The other is a public relations black eye.

Great rivalries are the stuff of NASCAR legend. The King (Richard Petty) vs. The Silver Fox (David Pearson) may have been the greatest in motorsports. Bobby Allison versus Darrell Waltrip was a great rivalry. For a time, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart had a great rivalry. What successful driver did Dale Earnhardt NOT have a great rivalry in his heyday. Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon? He wasn’t called the Intimidator for no reason.

Think about it; these sports building standoffs had a common denominator: these men were winners. It was a motorsports version of the Lakers vs. the Celtics, the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, or the Redskins vs. the Cowboys. It’s about two great opponents bringing their “A” game and settling who is best, and a lot less about rubbing each other out.

Feuding is a completely different ballgame- speaking as one bearing the same family name as one involved in perhaps the greatest family feud of all time (for the record, my family was in Texas, not Kentucky when the McCoys and Hatfields were killing each other). Feuds are just a bunch of bloodshed and boorishness. It doesn’t take all that long before the principals even forget what started it all. In NASCAR, Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch were more of a feud; they weren’t settling greatness, they seemed more bent on wadding up as much sheet metal as possible. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski was an especially nasty feud. Kyle Busch has engaged in more than one feud, as has his brother. The shakeout of such incidents is not settling greatness, but settling grudges.

Feuds produce hurt feelings, costly mash-ups, injuries, collateral damage and bring embarrassment to a sport. Such activities endanger relationships with sponsors; Jack Roush nearly losing Scott’s over Edwards’ shenanigans and JGR’s partnership with M&Ms nearly fractured over Kyle Busch’s behavior. Suffice it to say, I don’t think they would feel it was worth it. The crew back at the shop isn’t too wild about all the damage to their handiwork, and in general, feeds a negative stereotype that makes NASCAR look more like WWE.

That’s not to say that a good NASCAR rivalry isn’t devoid of trading paint, psychological warfare and intensity. Such things are a by-product of a heated rivalry and not center stage in it. It’s kind of like when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were fighting it out for the 2011 Chase. Smoke was always trying to get in Carl’s head, but the real battle was on the track. NASCAR needs more of that, and a lot less of the schoolyard slapping and on-track bullying that has passed for rivalries for the most of recent years.

Here’s hoping Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano stay true to their words. Logano is off to the best start of hs young career; displaying some of the potential envisioned for him as a racing wunderkind. After a lost 2013, Hamlin is back to his competitive form. The two have bigger fish to fry. The truth is, both could be duking it out for a championship if they play their cards right. Now that would be a story, considering where their paths converged previously. It’s a heck of a lot better plot than seeing who can out insult the other, or which driver can succeed at taking the other out more frequently. Let’s leave the feuding to the divas and the backmarkers.