NASCAR is the Wild West of racing championships. Let’s face it, the best part about hockey is the part that has less to do with pucks, and more to do with jersey-grappling punches – in rapid succession. We crave the action and drama. But with motorsports, it’s a much more serious game. You can only do so much damage with your bare fist or even a hockey stick. A 3,300lb racecar is infinitely more hazardous – both on the inside, as well as the outside.
It’s also a lot harder not to take things personally on the racetrack. If someone’s elbow comes down on your face as you fight for a rebound, that’s a part of the sport. NASCAR bumps and grinds with each other all day long – it’s just part of racing 200 mph with only inches of cushion between racecars.
But when you’re in first place in the Daytona 500 with one lap to go, and someone spins you out to take the win – that’s a $50,000 knuckle sandwich you’re fixin’ to buy that man; worth every penny, too.
22 Gordon VS. Johnson 2010
“There is a very intense rivalry.” Chilling words from Johnson, who – pictured here – looks like he’s about to serve Gordon up a nice, hefty serving of fat lip on the jaw, with a right haymaker. (You can almost see him loading his right shoulder up, actually).
This rivalry goes deeper than just wins on a scorecard, and whether or not Johnson was even threatened by Gordon’s 2010 season, in the heat of it; after all, he was a points leader with three wins at the time of this picture.
21 Harvick VS. Biffle 2002
When enough is enough – sometimes, you just gotta attack, from over the hood of a car (literally). (Not really, kids. This is actually a bad example of how to conduct your life – take notes.)
When you’re struggling to hang on to a good spot with a poor-handling racecar (as Harvick was), getting slammed into the outside wall by an impatient Biffle is the catalyst that just might send you flying over the hood of a car, after the race, to snatch up his larynx in your fists and tell him what you think about his driving. Biffle just took it like a rag doll, too.
20 Earnhardt Jr. VS. Busch 2008
Rubbin’ is racin,’ but pit-maneuverin’ takes it to a stratospheric level. The incident could have just as easily been assumed to be a byproduct of head-to-head racing, at 200 mph, with less than inches between the cars. But it was to be taken to the heart by NASCAR Nation.
The incident would tech Busch just how deep the level of loyalty Dale Jr. fans had for their sacred Earnhardt racing legacy, and although it didn’t explode into a hairball of fists and helmets – taking it to the “hardcore-threat” level ranks this one is up there with the best of them.
19 Petty VS. Pearson 1970s
David Pearson was one of the most underplayed racers of his time, and he happened to be the nemesis and rival of racing legend Richard Petty. He is arguably just as good a racer, having started 574 races (with 104 wins).
Richard Petty won twice the amount of races, but he raced a whole lot more, too. The understated Pearson would go on to win three Grand National Championships, in just five seasons. (60% win ratio) Petty would have seven titles – over 32 seasons! (21% win ratio.)
18 Keselowski VS. Kenseth 2014
Drama, in NASCAR, extends far beyond the reaches of the steep banks of the racetrack. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?) It appears the camera crews were also privy to this fact as they followed a race-suited Keselowski between two parked race haulers, out in the parking lot.
Like a bolt of lightning, Kenseth bolts passed the cameraman and plows into Keselowski to begin a parking-lot grappling match between the two drivers as race crews frantically work to subdue the orgy of emotions coursing through an enraged Kenseth’s veins.
17 Stewart VS. Logano 2009
They say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets punched…" in the mouth, in the middle of pit lane, repeatedly…next to his racecar. When you’ve been doing it as long “Smoke” has, buttering up a little bit of “Sliced Bread” is just another day at the office.
Especially since his nickname is, in fact, “Sliced Bread.” (I’d want to hit him, too.) Driving like a total jabroney will only compound the agony, and when Stewart's had enough – your face is going to hear about it.
16 Stewart VS. Gordon 2000s
“I’ll slam you into the wall, next time you’re anywhere near me!” Jeff Gordon’s infamous words of anger to Tony Stewart are indicative of the turbulent relationship they’ve shared more rambunctious days.
We “despised each other,” Stewart recalls in a 2016 interview. The wall-slam never did come, as it would turn out. That would likely have been met with one of Stewart’s famous ground attacks on pit lane, the next time Gordon came in for tires or fuel. Here, they almost look like they’re ready to “bring it on in.”
15 Harvick VS. Busch 2011
Darlington, 2011. Harvick, Bower, and Busch get three-wide down the track when things get a little hairy. Coming out of turn four, the three cars, still racing impossibly-close, bounce lightly against each other as they move to the straightaway. Bower, on the inside, gets kicked up into the wall as Harvick and Busch continue on – but Busch still has a little surprise for Harvick.
Before they can even get to the next corner, Busch smashes his racecar into Harvick’s 29 car, ruining his 8th place standing – with only 4 laps to go. Harvick stands in a very untrustworthy posture here, inches from Busch’s sweet little nose.
14 Earnhardt Sr. VS. Gordon 1995
The heated rivalry between two of NASCAR’s most formative drivers (in recent history) belongs to Gordon and – none other than the living legend himself – Dr. Dale Earnhardt Sr. His face is permanently ingrained into the face of the motorsport for anyone talking NASCAR during this thunderous chapter of its history. Gordon attributes his rivalry with the “Intimidator,” in part, to the total contrast between the two men.
Earnhardt Sr. was essentially the “Raiders” for rednecks, and arguably the most-loved NASCAR driver in history. When Jeff Gordon came around, with his bad-looking mustache and a rainbow on his racecar, in the 1990s – you can only imagine what Sr. thought of him.
13 Gordon VS. Wallace 1998
Sometimes, accidents are just, exactly that – an accident. When you pack 850 race-tuned ponies into a 3,300lb chassis and race them within inches of each other at 200 mph, things happen. The “things happen” card was possibly what Wallace was going for in 1998 when he gave Gordon a little bit of love from the inside of his rear tire in a turn, taking him out of the race (you could distinctly see Wallace turning into Gordon’s quarter panel).
A year earlier, Gordon gave Wallace a “bump and run” to steal the win from him in 1997. #paybackfeelssogood
12 Gordon VS. Kenseth 2007
Gordon may have hit the scene looking like a boy off the farm, but the Vallejo, California native has been competitively racing since he was five. His racing esteem – as well as his resume – adequately reflect his talent. The Gordon-Kenseth rivalry never got much press, but Gordon is not a fan of being held up.
If your car can’t keep up, you’d better let him pass, or at least be shuffled aside once he gets tired of following you. Subsequently spinning him out after he pushes over you is a great way to start a pit-side brawl.
11 Gordon VS. Johnson 2010
Jimmy Johnson is an amazing driver – one with few contenders even close to his level. The lack of competition has been so bad, at times, it’s even been said to be hurting Johnson’s professional career. Not having a rival is like listening to your favorite music without the vocals.
It’s cool sometimes, but after a while, you realize there’s more to this racing thing than pulverizing the standings. He has dominated NASCAR from 2002 to 2013. This includes pushing teammate Jeff Gordon around like a puppet when a win is at stake. Gordon hates this – and Johnson does it anyway.
10 Gordon VS. Keselowski 2014
In a sport where tempers flare hotter than the backfiring exhaust of the 90° push-rod V-8s that power it, you can’t go around angering some of the hottest-headed NASCAR drivers in the field and expect NOT to have a few conversations before you can even get out of your racecar.
Keselowski was double-teamed by Gordon AND Harvick as both drivers had a piece of mind to share with the lanky number two driver, at the same time. Talk about a tough situation.
9 Harvick VS. Logano 2015
It’s like a game of hot potatoes when two drivers get in each other’s faces. Since they don’t have microphones, you can only judge by their body language (and that of the surmounting crowd around them) as to the general nature of what’s being said – and more importantly – if anyone’s about to get popped in the kisser on national television.
Sometimes, we see it coming miles away. Other times, it strikes like a rattlesnake. When Harvick is in your face – just assume a barrage of haymakers is about to pummel your dome if you’ve spent any number of laps removing his paint.
8 Wallace VS. Newman Forever
There has been much speculation about the relationship between teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman. Rusty has always been stubborn in his way of racing. Rightfully so, he’s a legend. Newman has had a more questionable career, and the opposing personalities never meshed very well.
With only 60 remaining in the 2004 Martinsville race, Newman ran Wallace hard enough to wear out his new tires early as the two fought with each other in a battle that almost cost Wallace a long-needed victory. Newman was never forgiven.
7 Harvick VS. Rudd 2003
We’ve seen it before – and we’ll likely see it over and over. Cheat Harvick out of a good finish (like a second-place finish), and you can expect a dance with him after the race. Drivers will tolerate a bit of bump-and-grind here and there, but this isn’t Studio 54. Love taps going while cornering is like driving your opponent’s car straight into the wall yourself – it’s really hard to recover a loose racecar in a corner.
Moves like this make men like Harvick plow into your racecar on pit lane for some heated words – and more if pit crews aren’t light on their feet.
6 Newman VS. Montoya 2011
Starting “on the pole,” Juan Pablo Montoya got tangled up into a wreck with Ryan Newman at Richmond International after locking horns repeatedly earlier in the race. The two already had a history of run-ins when sparks erupted between their racecars. A subsequent back and forth battle would end in lost positions (and standings) for both drivers throughout multiple races.
The skirmish still leaves the two with resonating resentment for each other – but Montoya seems to prefer the “hiding in the trailer” approach to altercations. Indeed, the tamer-ranks of the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship seem more suited to Montoya.
5 Waltrip VS. Wallace 1989
In his autobiography, Waltrip claims to have been involved in racing events since the young, tender age of 15. When nobody would help him jump-start his career, he began forging it on his own. That road wasn’t always filled with rainbows and lollipops, rather; scuffles and heads-up rubbin’ till the checkered flag was a more appropriate description of his career.
In the 1989 Winston All-Star race, he was leading – with one lap to go – when Wallace spun him out to take the lead at the last second. What followed would be a fight that broke out from the garages all the way onto victory lane (and bitterness for years).
4 Busch VS. Keselowski 2017
Busch doesn’t seem to be a guy that can keep his face out of trouble. Maybe it’s because he drives as he does – but it’s even more likely that the smirk on his face just resonates within the mind’s eye of the drivers he wrongs until it burns a hole in their resolve not to drive a fist through his face.
Does it happen often? No, NASCAR is probably tamer than you think. But as punch worthy as his face maybe – he unsurprisingly feels the same about Keselowski’s face; “Sometimes, you just don’t like a guy.”
3 Busch VS. Logano 2017
It was one of the biggest blowups of the 2017 season, and it wasn’t Pay-Per-View-worthy, per se; but anytime a driver walks away from an altercation injured, we wanna know what happened! It was less a fight than a display of aggression and showmanship. But this wasn’t the first time Logano found himself at the knuckles of another driver.
Busch was unable to connect with his intended target, however, and ended up exchanging more with the pit crew than with Logano himself. Logano asserts he was held down hard in a corner when the car started to get loose. As he was following it up trying to correct, Busch was still there, blocking him.
2 Stewart VS. Ward 2014
On August 9th, 2014, Kevin Ward Jr. lost his life after being struck by Tony Stewart under a caution flag. He was mad about being spun into the wall. Moments prior to the incident, Ward was walking down the embankment from his wreck to confront Tony – still in his vehicle and in motion.
As Tony approached the wreck on the following lap, Ward took a final, ill-fated step at Tony, who goosed the throttle to spin the tires in response to Ward’s aggression. The two misjudgments would ultimately claim Ward’s life.
1 Busch VS. World 2018
If Kyle Busch isn’t about to take a sweeping haymaker to the cheek by Harvick, he’s getting his forehead bashed in by pit crews; and if he’s not doing that, he finds a way to rustle fans’ feathers. He does have one of the looser jaws in NASCAR, but I’m still a firm believer it’s his face itself, attracting all the fury.
A fan, feeling the same sentiment at an autograph signing, heckled Busch until it got physical and had to be separated – he’s now on the brink of hitting fans.
Sources: Bristol Motor Speedway, Pilot Online, The Drive, Indy Star