Published March 08, 2010
ATLANTA – This week, race fans won't be talking about Kurt Busch, winner of Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
And on an off-week from racing, that's precisely what NASCAR needs to keep the buzz going.
While it was never Edwards' intention to place Keselowski or the fans in harm's way, it was certainly his intention to send a message to the driver of the No. 12 Dodge that payback is hell. Talk about advancing a storyline.
Even Jeff Gordon, who says he's "just focusing on putting on the best races" knows it takes more than one driver (even if it is his driver/teammate Jimmie Johnson) to continue drawing the interest of current and potential fans to the sport.
"I just think it depends on the rivalries and the stories," Gordon said. "If you're dominating but you're battling a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart and you build that rivalry; the good guy/bad guy kind of thing; the Ford vs. Chevy and all that sort of thing. I think the stories are still there. The interest is still there. But when you're out there dominating and nobody is really your enemy, then I think it pulls away from you a little bit.
"What we need is Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart to be butting heads and banking and trying to beat one another and talking trash, that's going to be good television."
Two of the best tracks for exacting revenge -- Bristol and Martinsville -- are next up on the schedule. What a perfect time to start a wish list for rivalries.
1. Tony Stewart vs. Juan Pablo Montoya -- No doubt, these two drivers have the biggest stones -- and the most talent to back it up -- in the garage. And despite their points standings position being on the line at Homestead, neither driver refused to take crap from the other even though the action was on an intermediate track. Similar to Edwards, Montoya waited while his men repaired his car then returned to the arena and nailed Stewart. This was NASCAR self-policing at its finest.
2. Jimmie Johnson vs. Jeff Gordon -- Four-straight versus Four-time. A battle for the ages. Gordon confessed, "The problem is that Jimmie and I are friends. So we never cross that line. And that's good and bad." What's good (as Gordon admitted in Las Vegas) is he profits from Johnson's success. What's bad is that stops Gordon from taking it to the next step to win.
3. Denny Hamlin vs. Brad Keselowski -- This battle lasts all weekend long. It usually starts on Saturday and crescendos into Sunday's action. At Phoenix, NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke with Hamlin on Saturday night. Chairman Brian France tag-teamed Keselowski with Helton the next morning. Hamlin, meanwhile, waited until the Nationwide Homestead race to send a message to Keselowski.
4. Edwards vs. Keselowski -- There are many drivers that suffer from attention deficit disorder -- but few forget the competitors that have taken away opportunities to win. Some believe that Edwards lost his edge after the Talladega tumble last April. Regardless, he surely lost the lead and the trophy just yards from the finish line. Fast forward to Atlanta where Edwards had another shot at ending his winless streak, only to have Keselowski take him out of contention again. If Keselowski's car doesn't take flight, we're not even discussing further punishment for Edwards beyond getting parked on Sunday.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. Kyle Busch -- Yes, it's old news that Busch got bumped for Junior at Hendrick Motorsports but there's still a lot of resentment on his part. And these two racers couldn't be more fundamentally different. Junior has a deep desire to be accepted by everyone. Busch could give a flying flip. Unfortunately, Busch seems to have lost his edge with the demands outside of his Sprint Cup day job. Note to Kyle: Trust people to run the truck shop in a similar fashion to Tony Stewart at SHR.
6. Carl Edwards vs. Kevin Harvick -- With raw emotion and talent, this feud has all the ingredients to build into a battle royale in both the Nationwide and Cup garages. Although the NNS equipment is well matched, that hasn't always been the case on the Cup side -- but that appears to be changing. And if these two can't go head to head on the track, there's always a garage stall waiting at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
7. Clint Bowyer vs. Denny Hamlin -- A younger version of No. 6. This pair would be well matched in skill, equipment and ex-girlfriends (remember that Hamlin needling at Michigan?). Both are scrubby up-and-comers with potential and staying power.
8. Jimmie Johnson vs. Sam Hornish Jr. -- Another battle of the champions, alas, Hornish's winning days are behind him -- in open wheel. Johnson has been extremely critical of Hornish's lack of prowess in stock cars and with good reason.
9. Brian Vickers vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Vickers won his first Cup race at Talladega in 2006 after spinning out Junior and his then teammate Jimmie Johnson. Coincidentally, Junior took out Vickers in the 2009 Daytona 500. This is a popularity contest that Vickers just won't win.
10. Danica Patrick vs. Milka Duno -- OK, so we just had one shot with these two princesses during Speedweeks last month. But everyone was waiting for that quintessential cat fight. Surely, Bruton Smith can put up a purse and truck in some Jello to promote Danica's comeback at New Hampshire in four months.