We watch NASCAR for the racing, but it is always a welcome little surprise when a rivalry builds up. It may be a rivalry based on hard feelings or perhaps a friendly rivalry, but we still see the best racing out of the guys who put emphasis on one-upping a certain individual. These are the guys who’ve managed to truly put on a show for the fans.
5. Jimmy Spencer vs. Kurt Busch
You had the old guard in Jimmy Spencer, a former modified standout who really didn’t have a memorable Cup career but was well known for having a vicious temper. Then you had Kurt Busch, who was a young upstart with the best equipment anyone could want.
After Busch felt that he was dumped by Spencer at Phoenix in 2001, Busch had zero qualms in knocking Spencer out of the way at Bristol in 2002, on his way to his first career win. Spencer paid Busch back at Indy that summer, sending Busch into the wall and ending his day, but leading to a very memorable post-race interview from Busch.
After the two traded paint at Michigan in August 2003, Spencer proceeded to break Busch’s nose and earned a race suspension while becoming NASCAR’s newest hero. Meanwhile, Busch was put into the villain role, one he still hasn’t entirely shed.
4. Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski
Both of these competitors are as congenial as they come, yet we still wonder why they had such a strong beef with each other in 2009 and 2010.
At Talladega in the spring of 2009, the race came down to a battle between Keselowski and Edwards. When Keselowski went low coming into the tri-oval, Edwards came low to block him, only to turn himself around and end up airborne and into the fence.
Both chalked the incident up to hard racing, yet when the two met at Atlanta the next year, Edwards gained retribution in a similar fashion following an earlier incident. This time, Keselowski went airborne, much like Edwards did the year before, but thankfully, both were unharmed.
A last-lap duel which ended up with Keselowski’s Dodge wadded up and Edwards winning at Gateway in 2010 seemed to put a lid on the rivalry, and both seem to race each other with a lot more respect these days.
3. Smokey Yunick vs. the establishment
When it came to rules, Smokey Yunick was a genius in working the gray area.
He was a racer’s racer, a hard-partying inventor who only wanted to go faster than the fastest. In NASCAR, he found many who wished to join him, such as Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts and Herb Thomas. As a result, Yunick won several races and championships as a car owner and crew chief.
However, it was due to his ingenuity behind the wrenches that he often ran afoul with NASCAR president Bill France. There are several instances that Yunick wrote about in his book “Smokey’s Best Damn Garage in Town” where, when faced with a threat from France, Yunick would defiantly withdraw his entry knowing that it was his cars and drivers that generated the most fanfare.
Yunick finally got tired of dealing with the politics of NASCAR after France overruled Yunick’s drive for increased safety measure in the cars, leaving in 1970.
2. Dale Earnhardt vs. Jeff Gordon
Earnhardt and Gordon were the complete antithesis of each other, and that helped to fuel the flames of this rivalry.
This was a case of experience against youth. One was a cowboy in every sense of the word while the other was just a kid. One was dark speed while the other was a colorful blur.
Things never got unpleasant between the two, although Earnhardt often took the time to lob a few jabs in Gordon’s direction. After he won the 1995 Brickyard 400 Earnhardt exclaimed that he was the first man to win the Brickyard 400. When someone pointed out that Gordon had won the race in ‘94, Earnhardt quipped that he was right — he was the first man.
Both drivers were great, and the fact that Earnhardt put a lot into this rivalry showed that he was willing to pass the torch to such a talented driver like Gordon.
1. David Pearson vs. Richard Petty
Every NASCAR fan who is familiar with the rivalry between David Pearson and Richard Petty looks upon it fondly, as it is one of the only times in NASCAR history that a rivalry was based solely on respect.
It was this immense respect of each other that brought both drivers to bring their A game when racing. They raced each other harder than anyone else, and that is why they placed first and second more than anyone else.
However, you never did see these drivers come to blows, even after their spectacular 1976 Daytona 500 finish. In the end, Petty won 200 times while Pearson won 105 times. They placed first and second to each other 63 times. What does that say about their desire to beat each other?