Many aspects of NASCAR make it an interesting sport. People interested in the mechanical end of it find the cars fascinating. Others find the personal lives of the drivers to be of interest. Everybody likes the on track action and behind-the-scenes strategy. The one other big thing that everyone loves to see is a rivalry between two drivers.
NASCAR has always had it's rivalries. In the 60's Richard Petty and Bobby Allison bumped fenders on a weekly basis. Later on, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip mixed it up on and off the track. And who can forget last year at Bristol when Dale Earnhardt intentionally took out race leader Terry Labonte. Well, this is NASCAR 2000, and there is a whole new rivalry brewing.
Jeff Gordon, one of the brightest young stars of NASCAR, with three championships and 51 wins and Tony Stewart, one of the biggest hot heads to hit the sport (Remember him throwing heel pads at Kenny Irwin? Or the time he picked a fight with Robby Gordon at Daytona for what was a rookie mistake?) have started a not-so-friendly rivalry of their own.
It all started in Sunday's Global Crossing @The Glen. On lap two, Gordon tried to make a pass on Stewart throught esses. Two cars can not fit through that section of the race track, and during the very early stages of the race, it is only sportsmanlike to let the faster car get by. Stewart did not do this, and in so doing put Gordon into the wall. Both cars sustained sheetmetal damage. Tony's crew got him back out onto the track quickly. Gordon's car, however, had much heavier damage, and the Rainbow Warriors lost a lap fixing the car. Gordon got back on the lead lap, but it was too little too late. He finished 23rd. Stewart went on to post a sixth place finish.
Afterward the two drivers had a heated "discussion" in the garage area. Gordon threatened, "The next time you get near me, I'll put you in the wall." For the first time in his short career, this was Gordon the stock car racer, not Gordon the Californian with the marketing savvy. This was Mr. Gordon, the three-time Champ standing up for himself.
Stewart replied with a string of swear words. That in itself is immature. Later on, Tony said, "I thought I gave him enough room." Obviously not.
During this whole argument between the drivers, analysts have agreed that Gordon used no profanity. This shows some great character. It would have been easy to lay into Stewart with every swear word in the book, but he didn't. Gordon has said that he is trying to cut back on his swearing, and this shows that it is working.
Can you blame Jeff for being upset? Of course not! He is the road racing king, who was going for an unbelievable 7 road course wins in a row. Stewart is a sophomore who is starting to get a bad reputation. Stewart didn't give Jeff the room he needed and ruined a very fast race car in the process.
Anyway, back to the rivalry. A rivalry will spice things up. Emotions are as much a part of stock car racing as Goodyear tires and Philips 76 racing fuel. Unfortunately, emotions are often hidden behind the corporate politics of NASCAR. Everyone says what they say to keep the sponsors happy, and their image up. One almost knows what the drivers and crew chiefs are going to say before they say it. To put it simply: The human element of NASCAR has gotten boring.
If Gordon is good on his word, as many believe he is, the feud will be continued this weekend at Michigan or at Bristol the next. Most likely, payback will come at Bristol where the speeds are slower and the beating and banging is expected.
As Bill Weber of ESPN put it: Superman has met his Lex Luthor, but how many times has Lex Luthor come out on top?