NASCAR Race Weekend Central

No Bull: 3 Rivalries That NASCAR Needs in 2011

Outside of the Chase for the Championship drama, the end of the 2010 NASCAR season was pretty entertaining. Drivers certainly ‘had at it’ (isn’t that the most overplayed quote of the year), but now have more than 80 days to cool off before the unofficial start of the 2011 season. Here’s some rivalries that need to stay fresh for 2011, because bland and boring isn’t going to stop that TV ratings slide.

Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch: If you think Jimmie Johnson is too vanilla, this one is for you. And quite honestly, it’s tailor-made for professional wrestling.

As you’ve probably seen 100 times by now, Harvick spun Busch after he said Busch raced him “like a clown” over the course of Sunday’s Ford 400. For 2011’s sake, the hard racing happened during the whole weekend, as Harvick and Busch fiercely raced each other during Saturday’s Nationwide race, too. And for his part, Busch called Harvick “two-faced” after getting out of his car.

While Busch may have a point, Harvick did, in essence, call his shot on Friday in the pre-race press conference, saying that he’d do whatever it took to win the championship. Wrecking Busch – and given Harvick’s comments after the race, it’s hard to decipher that it wasn’t intentional – gave Harvick his best chance to win. It permitted him to get closer to Johnson and most importantly, kept Denny Hamlin a lap down, forcing him to get the wave around. What better opportunity to mess with Hamlin than by crashing his teammate? (If Harvick thought through all those steps, then he’s even more cunning than I give him credit for, and that’s saying something.)

NASCAR needs two heels to square off and Busch and Harvick are the perfect combination. Neither do anything to try to erase the roles that they’ve been given – it can be argued that they’ve largely created them for themselves – and sports are great when there’s a legitimate good vs. bad rivalry. It’s even better with bad vs. bad.

Joey Logano vs. Juan Pablo Montoya: Let’s be honest, this one kind of came out of nowhere, and despite that fact, was largely ignored on Sunday.

Montoya got into Logano on the backstretch after a restart, sending Logano crashing into the inside wall. As soon as the incident happened, the No. 20 team vowed retribution, and sure enough, lived up to their word.

That retribution actually came during a caution period and if you weren’t following the race on Twitter, there was little chance that you knew about it. The damage from Logano’s payback was enough to send Montoya to the garage, but the driver smartly stayed inside his car while Montoya was in the garage while Montoya and crew chief Greg Zipadelli hashed it out.

Logano’s already had one run in this year at Pocono with Harvick, but the Montoya battle can be his and his alone. (His father Tom stole some of the spotlight at Pocono). Logano’s done a lot of growing up during his sophomore season and his willingness to not back down has never been more apparent. Both drivers are going to be darkhorses for the Chase in 2011, and it’d be fun to see them square off in February or March.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin vs. Brad Keselowski: Need I say more? Ever since calling Busch an ass at Bristol, Keselowski’s flown largely under the Sprint Cup radar, but that’s not a good thing. Will a turn in the Blue Deuce in 2011 cause some heated tempers?

Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon: No, I don’t want them to re-enact their tango at Texas – does anyone? – but this is here largely because the sport needs both drivers to have success. Burton and Gordon were the masters of good cars and bad luck over 2010, and given their roles as the de facto spokespeople of the Cup Series, they’ll carry even more cachet if they’re winning again. Gordon’s never going to win six or seven races a year and Burton’s never going to be a prohibitive Cup favorite, but a handful of victories between them isn’t too much to ask, is it?

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