Dustin Long
Monday May 9th, 2011

No matter the subject, we're constantly chided that things were better back in the day. Most times, they really weren't, but nostalgia clouds our minds and helps us remember only certain things in a Leave it to Beaver way.

Occasionally, though, things truly were better in the past.

Veteran NASCAR fans longingly recall an era in which rivalries ruled. They look at Petty-Pearson, Petty-Allison and Allison-Waltrip with as much fondness as youthful love. Fans recite door-banging stories of those drivers with a vividness, and in some cases exaggeration, as if they were there. Then again, with how often those drivers raced for wins, many saw those drivers together on the track.

It's too early to declare that Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will become a rivalry, but such a pairing has potential, especially after Saturday night's post-race showdown at Darlington added to their growing history.

GALLERY: Memorable NASCAR brawls

Among the reasons NASCAR has not had a significant rivalry in more than 20 years -- no, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt didn't meet such standards -- is that the antagonists often didn't run together on the track. For a feud to grow into a rivalry, it needs competitors fighting each other for wins.

Richard Petty and David Pearson finished 1-2 a combined 63 times, with Pearson winning 33 times. A rivalry is not Gordon and Earnhardt, who combined to finish 1-2 only seven times, with Gordon winning five of those races.

Harvick and Busch have potential because they race against each other in so many different series. They've finished 1-2 a total of 14 times in Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series races. Busch holds an 8-6 advantage heading into Dover this weekend.

They're likely to keep running around each other. Harvick and Busch are the only drivers to have each won two Cup races this season, all but guaranteeing that they'll be in this year's title Chase.

Battling for wins is only part of the equation in building a rivalry. There has to be some spice. Both have it -- and appear to have sponsors willing to allow them to express themselves.

For fans who like such sideshows, the sport is better off when Harvick runs well. That's when he provokes and needles drivers.

During a news conference with the three title contenders before last year's season finale at Homestead, it was Harvick, seated with Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, who talked about how nervous Hamlin seemed. It was Harvick, when asked what irked him most about his competitors, Harvick said, "I'll give you something.'' He cited Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, and that Johnson had won four titles in a row to that point.

One of Harvick's favorite foils has been Carl Edwards. They had a scrum in the Nationwide garage at Charlotte in 2008. Last year, Harvick called Edwards a "fake,'' saying of Edwards: "You can't be the nice guy, you can't be the bad guy and you can't be bully.'' Edwards responded by saying he had "no respect'' for Harvick.

Harvick also took on Joey Logano last season. A week after a dust-up with Logano at Pocono, Harvick recited a litany of on-track incidents with the young driver and a couple of off-track encounters with Logano's father, noting that the elder Logano "needs to stay away and act like a 50-year-old man or however old he is.''

Busch provides his own spice. He doesn't back down. After winning the Cup race at Richmond a few weeks ago, he confessed that his last-lap loss two nights earlier in a late model charity race "still stings.''

As the All-Star race nears, memories of Busch's conflict with teammate Hamlin return. Busch hit the wall trying to pass Hamlin for the lead in the final laps. After the contact, Busch screamed on his radio: "Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this ... race. I swear to God, I'm going to kill that (expletive). All his (expletive) fault! I had this race won! It was won!''

With Busch and Harvick unafraid to speak out and both often running together on the track, it was only a matter of when conflict would arise between them.

It happened at Homestead last November when Harvick wrecked Busch and said afterward: "He raced me like a clown all day. Three wide, on the back bumper, running into me, and I just had enough.''

Said Hamlin, seated next to Harvick in the post-race press conference: "Sounds like your teammates raced me all day.''

Responded Harvick: "I just parked yours.''

Then came Saturday night at Darlington. Racing in the top-10 in the final laps, Harvick and Busch made contact. After Clint Bowyer wrecked, Busch and Harvick bounced off each other with Busch hitting the rear of Harvick's car and sending it spinning up to the wall.

Tempers boiled. After the race, Harvick caught Busch before they headed down pit road. Busch darted back on the track and Harvick followed, pulling alongside. Thus began their tango. Busch tried to back away but broke reverse gear. Eventually, both turned back to pit road with Harvick stopping in front of Busch.

There they sat for more than 20 seconds -- Busch trapped since he couldn't back away -- before Harvick exited his car and approached Busch's car.

"When I saw him getting out of his car, I knew it wasn't going to be a good situation,'' Busch said later. "My choices were limited. I was either going to get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there and try not to get hit or anything like that.''

Busch took off as Harvick reached in and tried to hit him. Busch's car pushed Harvick's car away and it turned into the inside pit wall.

"I made a judgment call there and it wasn't one of the best choices that I had," Busch said. "But I pushed his car out of the way on pit road and unfortunately there were men walking down pit road. I hate it that somebody could have gotten hurt, but I was just trying to get away from it and get back to my hauler and go on with my own business.''

Both drivers met with NASCAR. The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

Asked afterward if things were settled with Busch, Harvick only said: "You saw the end.''

Busch was asked if things were fine with Harvick after the meeting and his response was: "Nope.''

Harvick's car owner, Richard Childress, who has seen feuds through the years and been a part of them with Dale Earnhardt, provided a clue to how this saga might go:

"Some things have a way of working it out. We'll just see where it goes from here. I believe in the driver standing up for what he believes in. Always have. Always will.''

With Harvick and Busch likely to be running together often this season, they might finally give the sport a rivalry fans have yearned to see.

Dustin Long covers NASCAR for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The Roanoke (Va.) Times and the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. His blog can be found here.

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