The Frontstretch: The Busch - Edwards Rivalry Gains Steam; But Do The Fans Love It? by Thomas Bowles -- Monday August 25, 2008

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The Busch - Edwards Rivalry Gains Steam; But Do The Fans Love It?

Bowles - Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday August 25, 2008


There were differing opinions on the quality of racing Saturday night; but if we learned anything from the new Bristol that everyone can agree on, it’s that the Kyle Busch – Carl Edwards battle is officially the sport’s newest rivalry. With one angry swipe on the cooldown lap – and one angry slam hit in retaliation – NASCAR’s two most successful drivers of 2008 also decided that they didn’t like each other all that much.

But what the sport has yet to understand – and what they’ll be watching – is whether this is the battle fans in the stands are looking to see.

Make no mistake, though; those battle lines are being drawn. After leading 415 laps in one of the more dominating short track performances of recent years, Kyle Busch found himself vulnerable after the night’s final caution flag for debris bunched up the field. Edwards was on his back bumper, and the challenger knew the only way he could get to the front was by hounding Busch on the restart. But despite being all over the No. 18, neither driver would give an inch in the closing laps as the two appeared equally matched.

That is, until Edwards took matters into his own hands. Just a little bump – tame by Bristol standards – sent Busch a little squirrelly and opened up the inside line for Edwards to streak to the win. It was a two, maybe a three at best on the one-to-ten scale of historical Dirty Driving; but it’s a move that would come with no apology from the man that pushed the envelope.

“That’s one of those deals where I couldn’t get by him and I couldn’t get by him and I just had to ask myself, ‘Would he do that to me?’” Edwards said of his rival. “And he has before, so that’s the way it goes.”

“All I could think about was Richmond in a Nationwide race when he was trying to get through the field, and he pile drove me. That’s just the way it is. I have a lot of respect for the guy and he was real fast, but we can’t give up points when they’re right there for us to take.”

But taking anything away from Busch by force always comes with a price. The point leader couldn’t get back to Edwards’ bumper before the end of the race – but his reaction was swift and severe once the checkered flag flew. Busch’s slam into Edwards showed an obvious displeasure at losing points, prestige, and the battle of aggression that he usually dominates.

Is the burgeoning rivalry between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards one for the ages? Or is it the NASCAR equivalent of two irritating girls from high school having a cat fight?

“He spun me out,” Busch said of the man he referred to as “Mr. Ed”-like after the race – comparing him to the famous TV horse from the 1960s. “So I got into him a little bit and let him know that I didn’t appreciate the way he passed me.”

“He’ll always come back and say he’s sorry. He did it at Milwaukee [with Clint Bowyer], and he’s done it a few other times. It’s just his normal fashion — that’s fine.”

“He was mad and I can completely empathize with his anger,” answered Edwards later. “I probably would have done the exact same thing [if I were in his position]… if I could have passed [Busch] without running into him, that’s what I would have done.”

But he didn’t, and so now we’re left with sore feelings and soaring testosterone that’s not coming down anytime soon – and a war that’s likely to play out during the playoff races of September, October, and November. The two have now combined to win 14 of 24 races this season; no one else on the circuit has won more than two. In fact, this was the fifth time this season both Busch and Edwards have taken the checkered flag first and second; Busch leads those battles 3-2, although Edwards has closed the gap with wins in each of the past two weeks. It’s clear that up to this point in the season, both drivers have established themselves as the class of the field in Sprint Cup.

But the unanswered question remaining is whether this is the act millions of fans across America signed up for. We see it all the time in stick ‘n’ ball sports: there’s an ultra-competitive World Series, but no one watches because the fans could care less for either of the two teams involved. San Francisco – Anaheim? Yeah, that’s a World Series from six years ago … a competitive one, at that, but hardly anybody outside those two cities remembers what happened or who won. It’s a surefire sign that the people and the places make the memories in sports as much as the actual competition itself.

With that in mind, early results seem to indicate this is one twosome that still has some growing to do. Kyle Busch may be compared to Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on his best days, but the booing from the stands trumps all else on his worst ones. Carl Edwards used to come off as the Goody Two Shoes of the Cup Series, but recent problems with his temper and his tongue threw some cracks in the Dudley Do Right routine. Both men’s flaws make it hard for fans to universally accept them for who they are – neither started the season as the circuit’s most popular driver, and both are left with an almost insurmountable hill to climb in that department even after all the success.

Fans are still hesitant, adjusting; these were clearly not the two men they were expecting to have thrown at them week in, week out at the beginning of 2008. This year was supposed to be about Jeff Gordon’s Drive For Five, Jimmie Johnson’s Drive For Three Straight Titles, and Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth’s bid to unseat them both. In the background, the most popular driver’s move to the most powerful team – Junior to Hendrick – was to grab constant headlines. But 24 races in, Kenseth, Gordon, and Stewart are winless, while the primary focus revolves around two men who faced unpredictable futures as little as six months ago.

That backdrop makes it hard for this rivalry to become Petty – Pearson, Allison – Waltrip, or Earnhardt – Wallace … yet. There’s certainly potential for growth over the coming years, as both drivers are locked into their rides in long-term deals that make them the No. 1 focus of their respective organizations. Both are in their 20s, and both have the primes of their career ahead while former champs Gordon, Kenseth, and Stewart enter their late 30s – suddenly ancient history in the age of the “young gun.”

But short-term success is what NASCAR is after … and they’re after it now. In a year where NASCAR has taken so many hits from all different sides of the coin, they can’t wait for this thing to grow roots. It needs to be a full-blown tree of verbal jabs, on-track aggression, and side-by-side sparks to the finish line … something that gets fans as psyched as America was to see Michael Phelps swim for those eight gold medals.

At least both sides have drawn first blood, with bad blood simmering for the first time in the six months they’ve been thrown in the national spotlight. Now, it’s up to the fans; and we’ll know very soon whether enough headlines have been stirred to keep from having them change the channel and wait ‘till next year.

Contact Tom Bowles

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08/25/2008 05:24 AM

YES we love it ..and most of us have been warning that folks would start racing kyle like hes been racing others !!…what comes around goes around !!! GOOD JOB CARL !!

08/25/2008 06:04 AM

I agree sparxmoore. I have been waiting for the other drivers to race him like he races them. I don’t understand his mentality. He can do what he wants, but he whines when a driver does the same thing to him. I just wish Carl had put him into the wall when he bumped him.
I hope the other drivers start doing Shrub the same way he has done them in the past.

08/25/2008 07:51 AM

I could count about 40 other drivers out there that would be a better fit to carry the title of champion than those two, both need to grow up and act like real men!

Steve Cloyd
08/25/2008 09:16 AM

Short tracks are where it’s at. They provide stuff like this. Too bad they aren’t in the mega markets NASCAR craves so desperately, or we’d have a lot more of stuff like this to talk about each week.

The Old Guy
08/25/2008 09:19 AM

Personally, I think it’s great. Carl has already shown that he doesn’t like being moved out of the way. Remember his slam of Jr. last year in the Busch race?

What I find funny is how many people dislike the tactics of Kyle Busch but thought Earnhardt Sr. doing the same thing was wonderful.

Now we have the two best drivers this year, the two best teams this year locked in a head to head battle for wins and the championship.

I’m pulling for both of them and at the same time neither of them.

Buckle up boys, the race is on.

08/25/2008 09:29 AM

I agree that whinny boy got what he has been giving out all year. And Billie what is wrong with a little “get even” fron Carl. Does that make him less of a man? I also was a Earnhardt Sr. hater for his driving tactics and wanted someone stand up to him. Now for the important thing, the little man Bush should be careful how he makes fun of someone else’s looks, for he is far from a movie idol, besides Carl Edwards would beat him like a red-headed stepchild. I for one would like to see it happen!

08/25/2008 09:52 AM

It’s a shame NA$CRAP allows this bumping thing to take place in the first place!

And the BIGGEST problem with the “bumping” a car out of position, is NA$CRAP itself in who and when it chooses to penalize for such infractions!

If this is what NA$CRAP wants and allows, then simply state clearly this is within the rules! Then eliminate ALL doubt that it is “legal”! No matter what car, no matter what position!

Then I would accept it as real racing!

Just another NA$CRAP gray area!

Douglas complains yet again
08/25/2008 10:24 AM

it’s about time … especially if NASCAR wants to get back to their “roots”. what should have happened at the hauler was to give the two of ‘em some boxing gloves and let them slam it out for about 10 minutes!
i can’t wait to see this continue for the rest of the season because you know KyBusch can’t control his temper for 2 minutes, let alone the rest of the season!

08/25/2008 11:22 AM

Personally I can’t stand either one of them. They have the same characteristics like two peas in a pod. Let them fight each other until the Chase begins, and them maybe a driver that deserves to win the Chase will come to life.

The Old Guy
08/25/2008 11:59 AM

Ginger said…

“and them maybe a driver that deserves to win the Chase will come to life.”

And let me see if I can guess just who that might be.

08/25/2008 12:05 PM

I agree Ginger. I liked Edwards when he first started in Cup, but the Aw shucks “cousin Carl” (jeez I hate that nickname) is obviously a facade, reference the Kenseth incident last season. Maybe it’s the old school coming out in me, but to have two guys who have been given top flight rides right off the bat carrying on like grizzled veterans and trying to emulate Terry and Earnhardt, DW and Earnhardt, etc. chaps me something fierce. Let’s get a Cup before we start getting that entitled feeling boys ok? You guys have a few wins, but you really haven’t proven squat!Notice Kyle did his talking with his car? Edwards would tear him up. There’s no doubt Kyle dominated the race. However, when it’s all said and done, he lost. You’ve won plenty this year, live to fight another day. The “rivalry’ is going to have to wait at least til Richmond because any retaliatory move before then borders on criminal at those speeds. I think Kyle can ask his older brother how his little spat with Jimmy Spencer turned out. It’s easy to be a badass when your car is your weapon but stepping out of the driver’s seat will tell a different story. David Pearson would have jack-slapped you both for being such women out there.

As for the race, I have never napped during a Bristol race. Passed out yes, but never taken a 45 minute nap, until Saturday night. These CoT’s are garbage. I always used to say I’d like to see IROC at Bristol. Well Saturday I got my wish and I didn’t like it. Little action, little passing for the lead, and if it weren’t for the wrecks, Kyle would have won and 3 cars would have been on the lead lap.

08/25/2008 12:23 PM

When NASCAR implimented the rough driving rule I didn’t accept it on the short tracks but in time I understand that “bumping” is basically required on the short tracks. Carl did nothing wrong in my book! I love the new rivalry. Keep it up guys!!!

08/25/2008 12:29 PM

As the presumed “Dream Team” at Hendricks has failed to materialize, the Roush-Fenway vs JGR has magically appeared and the two best drivers in NASCAR (neither is Junior) will battle it out for the a seat at the head table in New York. While Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon continues to blame pit crews, Jimmie Johnson blames setup woes and Junior & Cousin Tony can’t agree on what to blame, the goliaths of NASCARJRG & Roush-Fenway are displaying their talented drivers — eight of the top twelve Saturday night were from these two camps. Fans, don’t wait to see the “changing of the guard…it has already changed.”

08/25/2008 12:57 PM

Lemme tell ya, 4 things from the crowd caught my attention from the crowd Saturday night:

1. The number of people who got up to leave with 100 laps to go, when the Shrub had been leading so long and it appeared that no-one could catch him…seats around us suddenly opened up!

2. The serious cheers that would have raised the roof, had Bristol had a roof, when Carl used Kyle’s own tactics on him to FINALLY get by him on that last restart.

3. The exact same thing happened when Carl spun Kyle on the cool down lap after Kyle tried to drive him into the wall.

4. The even LOUDER Boos when the Shrub was interviewed after the race.

Is this a rivalry like days of old? Maybe on the short-term…we’ll see if it carries on though the years…but if the fans at Bristol have any say in it, the majority seemed to love every minute of it. LOL

08/25/2008 05:19 PM

Uuuhh, Douglas. I can see you’re proud of yourself for using the clever term NA$CRAP. Brilliant!

Don’t count out Hendicks or Gordon. We’ve all been around Cup long enough to know that there’s always an ebb and flow. Recall the ups and downs and championships of Earnhardt Senior.

Look at Hendricks dominance last year with the new car.

Look at the quick rise of Kyle and Carl. For a multitude of reasons, they can go into a tailspin just as quickly.

I’m thinking Smoke and J Gordon will be there for the chase, right along with Kyle and Carl.

You can quote me on that.

Interesting article, Mr. Bowles. You do a pretty good job when you dispense with political correctness.

08/25/2008 05:55 PM

Somehow, I just don’t see Smoke in the mix. He has a lot of talent, but face it, does it do JGR any good if Smoke wins the cup at the expense of Hamlin and Kyle then immediately goes to Haas Racing next season? He’s not going to get the cream of the crop in JGR parts because it makes bad business sense.

If anyone, I would not count out Jimmie Johnson or Greg Biffle, and I’m not even a 48 or 16 fan. There is not a track on the schedule that is a weak spot for either guy. I sense a little less tenacity from Jeff Gordon. Maybe it’s fatherhood, I dunno, but he doesn’t stick his nose in there like he used to.
08/25/2008 07:22 PM

I am no fan, of either kyle or carl, of the two, i will take kyle. use to like carl, untill he went to jr. in victory lane and grabbed his arm, and jr. told him that was not cool and what finished me with houdy doody, was when he again went in front of the camera and drew, his fist , back to hit matt, and showed his big hody doddy grin, just finished me ,ever being a fan of his. SO, GO GET HIM ,KYLE!!!!!!

08/26/2008 04:15 PM

I think they’re both a couple of babies. Run each other into the wall and the crowd will go wild because we can’t stand either one of them. They can both dish it out but can’t take it.


Contact Tom Bowles

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