In a bizarre NASCAR twist that I never saw coming, the relationship between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch has taken a turn for the nice.
In a scenario that we’ve seen before, last week the two former NASCAR Cup Series champions battled for the win on the last lap of a pivotal race. With experience being the best teacher, many of us might have expected fireworks. We have, after all, seen this before with these two guys who, although they seemed to have mellowed ever so slightly, have treated fans to one of the most entertaining feuds in NASCAR for several years now.
It all started back in the Truck Series in 2008. Ron Hornaday Jr., who was driving for Kevin Harvick Inc., spun out after making contact with Busch on the last lap, creating some ill will in the process. In 2010, Busch went from Truck Series driver to owner, forming Kyle Busch Motorsports and enjoying a little payback by unseating KHI to win the team owner’s championship.
As we all know, NASCAR drivers get cranky if they lose a game of cornhole, much less a race or, Heaven forbid, a championship. They also have long memories.
While these two have yammered and snarked at one another over the years, and their families have probably never bonded over pizza and bouncy houses at Chuck E. Cheese’s, things really peaked six years ago at Darlington Raceway. In terms of racing “altercations,” it was no Yarborough vs. the Allisons at Daytona, but it was a doozy.
With fewer than five laps to go in the 2011 Southern 500, Harvick was less than thrilled with the way Busch was racing him, and gave him one of those infamous little “love taps” drivers are so famous for, in treacherous Turn 3. Then, they somehow managed to get into a three-wide racing situation with Clint Bowyer, at a track where we all know has barely room for two, especially on the “pointy end” of the egg.
In a weird Darlington chain reaction, Busch either got loose (his version of the story) or crowded Harvick (who had his own, quite different viewpoint), but either way, Harvick ended up getting pushed into Bowyer, crashing him into the inside wall before contact with Busch sent Kevin spinning into the outside wall.
No one got hurt, and as a spectator, it was really fun to watch … and then it got better.
Harvick claimed the contact was intentional, Busch claimed there was simply no room … and things turned either ridiculous or hilarious, depending on how you feel about these things.
I’m sure most of you remember this incident; the clip was shown on TV nonstop for about a week, with one prominent and respected broadcaster comparing it to a Laurel and Hardy routine with a couple of 3600-pound stock cars added in, just for laughs.
On pit road, Harvick stopped his car in front of Busch, climbed out, and headed over to Kyle’s window to punch him. Kyle saw him coming, hit the gas, and sped away, slamming Kevin’s car into the pit wall and leaving its driver standing there, looking pretty silly and extremely angry.
There have been other incidents in the ensuing years, but for the most part, the intense, impulsive behavior of youth has been tempered by age and, most importantly, by fatherhood.
So when Busch nudged Harvick aside in the final laps at Pocono on July 30 and went on to win the race, the histrionics and finger-pointing of the past were nowhere to be found. Instead, there was professionalism, with Harvick, who finished second, calling Busch “the class of the field.”
“There was no battle,” he said. “He was in a league of his own there at the end. Just got through traffic good, got to us, got around us, gone.”
One might conclude that these two champions have mellowed with age, that time has smoothed away their rough edges, that the stock car racing equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys have laid down their weapons, that Kyle vs. Kevin is a thing of the past, and that NASCAR tranquility has been achieved … but I wouldn’t bet on it if I were you. Where’s the fun in that?
Cathy Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.