Spice up NASCAR? How about a rivalry (or two)?

May, 6, 2009
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Darlington Raceway president Chris Browning did a good thing bringing the Southern 500 back even though it won't be on its traditional Labor Day weekend.

Having grown up in South Carolina, NASCAR just doesn't seem right without it.

Now if somebody could find a way to bring back rivalries.

The sport needs some.

We tried to make Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. into a rivalry. That isn't working. It's not really a rivalry when one driver wins all the time and the other doesn't. Even with the powerful Junior Nation behind it -- and have you noticed a few cracks in the seal? -- the future doesn't look bright. Kyle versus big brother Kurt would be a doozy. They were trading wins there for a while this season and both are high in the points. But as much as they don't always agree on things Kurt is too nice these days to fuel anything big.

Kyle versus Jimmie Johnson would be ideal. Johnson is the reigning king of the sport with three straight titles, and no matter how many races Busch wins in the top three series he can't be compared to the sport's all-time greats until he wins a few titles.

That Johnson is from Hendrick Motorsports helps, too. Busch has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the organization that let him go to sign Earnhardt. Johnson doesn't mind taking a poke at the 24-year-old every once in a while, either.

The problem here is the same with brother Kurt. Johnson's just too nice to really mix it up the way rivalries were when the Southern 500 was one of the top traditions in NASCAR behind the Daytona 500.

Jeff Gordon versus Kyle Busch would be fun as well. He has the HMS ties and is a threat to win most weeks, but fans love to boo him almost as much as they do Shrub. You can't have a great rivalry when the fans hate both drivers.

Lets' see. What about Carl Edwards? Now there's a guy Busch could love to hate. It would be the Evil Empire versus Mr. Congeniality. They were heating it up toward the end of last season, but to have a good rivalry both parties have to sustain winning. Edwards just hasn't had it this season.

I'm running out of thoughts here. Who would you like to see as rivals? We need something like Richard Petty and David Pearson, Petty and Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and everybody.

The Southern 500 would be a good place to start it. We need excitement like the 1982 race when Cale Yarborough, Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Buddy Baker finished one through five. Or the '68 race when it came down to Yarborough and Pearson.

We need the drivers to show real disdain for each other like the Packers and Bears, the Lakers and Celtics, the Yankees and Red Sox.

It doesn't have to be Busch versus anybody. It can be Gordon versus A.J. Allmendinger for all I care.

We just need a good rivalry so fans can take sides and stir things up a bit.

Maybe that's impossible in this vanilla world.

But if they can bring back the Southern 500, even on Mother's Day weekend instead of Labor Day, maybe there is hope.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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