Brant James
Wednesday August 27th, 2008

There's a certain decadent pleasure in it all. The thrill of the tussle. It's two Nile crocs and one water buffalo. The last beer in the fridge and two grabbing hands. Two candidates, one presidency.

Carl Edwards recent ascension as a credible threat to Kyle Busch's blitzkrieg through the NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been a refreshing spectacle and joy to those who don't care much for the skilled but cocky 23-year-old star. Of course, there are those within the garage who think just as little of Edwards, which has given this whole thing an Alien vs. Predator feel between two young, perennial title contenders.

Edwards' bump-and-pass of Busch at Bristol, and their subsequent cool-down-lap flare-up sparked what could be a burgeoning rivalry that matters, though NASCAR's six-race probation for each is likely to cool things for awhile. Both were referencing a laundry list of slights amid their barbs on Saturday.

A look inside the battle.

Kyle Busch: At 23, he has 12 Sprint Cup victories (eight this season), 17 Nationwide wins (six this season) and nine truck series wins (three in 2008). He leads Edwards by 212 points with two races remaining until the Chase for the Championship. He's never won a championship in a top-three NASCAR series.

Carl Edwards: At 29, Edwards has 13 Sprint Cup wins (finishing third in 2005); 16 Nationwide victories and the 2007 championship while moonlighting, and six truck wins.

Kyle Busch: Freakishly talented, bold, ultra-confident, brash.

Carl Edwards: Hard-charger, aggressive, hard-worker, political.

Kyle Busch: Um .... Hold on. .... Still thinking. Surely some middling or younger driver might be inclined to aid Busch at an opportune moment with the hope of securing some future favor, but Busch shouldn't count on any aid unless his spotter has secured it with signature and notary beforehand. And that includes his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and older brother and 2004 Sprint Cup champion, Kurt.

Carl Edwards: At least able to play the game, say the right thing when cameras are on, he seems more inclined to exercise restraint when he's not sure he has the car to indulge his considerable skill. He also is a member of a four-car team that includes 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth and truck and Nationwide champion Greg Biffle.

Of course, Edwards feigned a punch at Kenseth after being enraged by a move at Martinsville last fall and Roush Fenway co-owner Jack Roush claims his only team orders are that his drivers not wad their cars into a ball until they all cross the finish line. Two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, a former teammate of Busch's at Hendrick Motorsports, espouses respect for Edwards, and that's telling in two ways.

Kyle Busch: Let's see, which drivers are likely to have a score to settle with Busch? Yes, all of them. In fairness, just many of them. As in 80 percent many, either for some move on the track, distaste for his attitude or jealousy over his precocious abilities. Even JGR teammate Tony Stewart is not a fan, and with Stewart leaving for his own team in 11 races, the cordiality tank is like empty.

Carl Edwards: Stewart's retaliatory sideswipe of Clint Bowyer at Pocono in 2006 obliterated Edwards, inciting him to call Stewart a jerk and ponder what it would be like to watch Stewart hemorrhage. Retorted Stewart: "The next time that I hear Carl Edwards tell me that he's going to make me bleed, he better be ready to do it right then and there....I don't care what the fine is from NASCAR. I've got $50,000 saved."

Stewart was one of the first to chip at the easily accepted veneer of Edwards as the next American golden boy, likening him to TV character Eddie Haskell and dubbing him fake. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has exchanged barbs a few times with Edwards, once in an uncomfortable victory lane 'conversation'.

Jimmie Johnson finished second to then rookie Edwards by .028 seconds in a hotly contested, but clean finish to the 2005 Atlanta spring race. The same year he won the Chase for the Championship race at Dover in extra laps by .080 seconds over Busch, then his rookie teammate. Though Johnson was leading the standings and bidding for his first title (he didn't win), he finished the race with Busch rat-a-tatting his rear bumper and Hendrick management's stomach in collective ropes

Said Johnson: "I think Carl has a little more age, a little more maturity on his side. It's not taking anything away from Kyle, but I think Carl has just been there, done that, a few more times. I've all along said I would put the championship -- if I was to see the championship, I would go off the experience, and he's won more championships and on down the line. And with that kind of ranking system in my eyes, Carl would be a step ahead of Kyle. But everyone needs to win their first and there are going to be guys out there breaking records, and Kyle has done that this year.

So it's tough to really say in my opinion. Carl is a little more laid back. Kyle seems to be a little more high-strung from time to time. But that doesn't tilt it one way or the other."

Richie Gilmore, then-vice president of competition at Dale Earnhardt Inc., had Edwards pegged in August 2006 after the Pocono melee with Stewart.

"He gets out of the car and smiles," Gilmore told the St. Petersburg Times, "but if you watch him race, Carl drives a lot like Dale [Earnhardt Sr.]. Carl gives you two laps, and then he nudges you out of the way. I mean, Carl Edwards runs into more people during a race than anybody. He's as aggressive as Tony or Dale, but I think he is so politically correct when he gets out he gets away with it."

Grab a tire iron, Kyle. You've seen all those magazine covers. Edwards is ripped. And don't bother to run; he's apparently an endurance athlete, too. He did date Amanda Beard, you know, an Olympic swimmer. Assuming he's not wearing a muscle suit, Edwards should have the strength and stamina to take this one as many rounds as he wishes.

Kyle Busch: Perhaps blood, especially freely flowing blood, is thicker than water, meaning big brother Kurt ultimately comes to the rescue, although their relationship often seems frosty. And Kurt has lost toothy bits in brawls before. Thanks, Jimmy Spencer.

Carl Edwards: Keep an eye on his mom. I don't think she's going to put up with any shenanigans.

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