“Boys, have at it” was the decree issued by NASCAR officials prior to the season, and NASCAR’s competitors did just that.
Early and often. Enough to spark a genuine feud nearly ever week.
From retaliation and threats to scary wrecks and angry words, and even a scuffle, NASCAR’s gloves-off policy created enough rivalries to keep fans on the edge of their seats all season.
Here’s a look at the top 10 feuds of the year:
1. Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski
Edwards and the fiery young Keselowski had a history after contact between the two sent Edwards’ car flying into the fence while battling for the win at Talladega in April 2009.
It came to an ugly head when Keselowski got into Edwards again at Atlanta in March. While retaliating, Edwards sent Keselowski into a frightening crash, with his car lifting off the ground and slamming roof-first into the wall.
The crash left Keselowski shocked, dazed and furious.
“He just decided to wreck me intentionally down the straightaway and about killed me and a couple of thousand people in the grandstands,” Keselowski said after exiting the infield medical center. “It is one thing to race somebody hard and to get in an accident going for position. It’s another to intentionally wreck somebody at 190 miles an hour.”
Edwards said he was not sorry for retaliating, but regretted the outcome.
“Brad knows the deal between him and I,” Edwards said. “The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected. … I wish it wouldn’t have gone like it did.”
Edwards and Keselowski met with NASCAR officials two weeks later and vowed to put the incident behind them. But their feud wasn’t over.
When Keselowski bumped Edwards again while racing for the lead in the Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway in July, Edwards retaliated again. And again the result was ugly.
Keselowski slammed into the wall and spun into the middle of traffic, getting hit by other cars.
“I didn’t mean any harm to him at all,” Edwards said of the Gateway incident. “Eventually he will learn that he can’t run into my car over and over and put me in bad situations.”
Countered Keselowski: “I’m sure he’ll say how sorry he is, or how cool he thinks he is or how great of a guy he is in his own mind, but that’s not reality.”
Adding drama to the incident was Keselowski’s father, Bob, a former who racer who threatened to get his firesuit and retaliate himself against Edwards.
2. Jeff Gordon vs. Jeff Burton
This was perhaps the most memorable feud of the year because it’s the only confrontation that actually got physical and it occurred between two of the sport’s most mild-mannered drivers.
Gordon, furious at Burton for wrecking him under caution at Texas, shoved Burton in the chest and took a swing at him before NASCAR officials broke up the altercation.
It wasn’t the first time Gordon has lashed out at another driver, but it was about the angriest he’s been.
“If somebody does something stupid, I’m going to be mad about it and I’m going to show him my frustration,” Gordon said.
The “fight” was a bit one-sided. Burton claimed the incident wasn’t intentional, took full responsibility and apologized repeatedly, including during a bizarre ambulance ride together to the infield care center.
Burton called it “the stupidest thing I think I might have ever done.” He was not surprised by Gordon’s reaction.
“I don’t blame him. Hell, I would have been mad if I had been him too,” he said.
3. Kevin Harvick vs. Joey Logano
This was one of the most entertaining feuds of the year, spawning a family feud and a great marketing opportunity.
After Harvick wrecked him at Pocono, Logano told his crew, “I’m going to [expletive] kill him.” He then parked his car next to Harvick’s on pit road and went after him. With his father, Tom, urging him on, Logano got into a shoving match with Harvick’s crew.
After NASCAR officials broke it up, Logano delivered one of the zingers of the year, saying, “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.”
Harvick and his wife, DeLana, shrugged it off and turned the comment into a business opportunity. Less than 24 hours later, Kevin Harvick Inc. was selling T-shirts for women that read: “I wear the firesuit in this family.”
4. Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski
This one featured three key elements to a classic NASCAR feud – retaliation, a wreck and a clever zinger that delighted fans.
When Keselowski bumped Busch out of the lead in the Nationwide Series race at Bristol, Busch wasted no time retaliating, wrecking Keselowski on the very same lap to win the race.
“I went down into the next corner and dumped him,” Busch said. “He does it to everybody else. Why can’t I do it to him?”
Keselowski got his revenge the next night. As drivers introduced themselves to fans prior to the Sprint Cup race, Keselowski told the Bristol crowd, “Kyle Busch is an ass.”
5. Kyle Busch vs. Denny Hamlin
No one can pitch a fit like Busch, and he pitched a royal one at the end of the Sprint All-Star race.
After his teammate forced him into the wall late in the race, ultimately causing him to wreck, Busch exploded, screaming over his team radio, “Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this … race. I swear to God, I’m going to kill that [expletive].”
When Busch took his battered car to the garage, he parked it at Hamlin’s team hauler and stormed inside, waiting on Hamlin to finish the race.
Team owner Joe Gibbs intervened and quickly declared that it was over.
“I feel good about it and I think they’re ready to go race as teammates,” Gibbs said.
6. Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson
Keeping with the teammate theme … with Johnson dominating the Sprint Cup Series, teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion himself, was bound to get a bit irritated.
He showed it at Texas in April and the following week at Talladega.
At Texas, they raced hard for the lead, making contact and leaving Johnson with a damaged fender. At one point, Gordon said over his team radio, “Four-time is a little upset. He [expects] to be treated different than everybody else.”
Both drivers said after the race that they were “disappointed” with each other.
The next week at Talladega, Johnson hung Gordon out in the draft and then blocked him, forcing Gordon onto the apron.
Gordon, who eventually wrecked, was furious with Johnson after the race.
“The 48 [Johnson] is testing my patience, I can tell you that,” Gordon said. “It takes a lot to make me mad, and I’m pissed right now. … I don’t know what it is with me and him right now … he's been testing my patience and it's about reached its boiling point."
7. Carl Edwards vs. Kevin Harvick
Edwards and Harvick have had few run-ins on the track, but they’ve had a war of words dating back to 2008.
When Edwards and Keselowski got into at Atlanta and then had to meet with NASCAR officials at Bristol, Harvick couldn’t help jumping into the fray.
During a press conference at Bristol, Harvick called Edwards “fake” and said, “You can’t be the nice guy and the bad guy and the bully.”
When told of Harvick’s comments, Edwards fired back.
“I have absolutely no respect for Kevin Harvick,” Edwards said. “I think he’s a bad person. That’s my opinion. I’ve told him that. We’ve had our deal before and his actions through that interaction were so devious and underhanded and cowardly that … I just have no respect for him.
“… When people like that question me, it makes me feel better because if those people were lined up patting me on the back I’d be on the wrong side of what’s right and wrong.”
8. Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch
As you might expect, there is no love lost between Busch and Harvick, two of the most controversial characters in the sport today.
In this season of “boys have at it,” they were bound to get into it at some point. It happened in the season finale when Harvick, tired of being raced aggressively by Busch, sent him spinning down the frontstretch and into a fiery crash.
The brash Harvick didn’t even pretend it was an accident.
“He raced me like a clown all day – three wide, on the back bumper, running into me, and I just had enough,” Harvick said. “I parked him.”
Busch, whose teammate Denny Hamlin was racing Harvick for the championship, said the two were just racing hard.
“I don’t know where his brain is at but it’s obvious not all [the] wires are connected,” Busch said.
9. Ryan Newman vs. Joey Logano
After Logano sent Newman spinning at Michigan, Newman confronted the young driver in the garage after the race, telling him, “Learn how to drive.”
“You’re not giving me an inch,” Logano fired back.
When the argument got heated and NASCAR officials stepped in, Newman responded, “I’m just trying to teach the little kid how to drive.”
10. Kurt Busch vs. Jimmie Johnson
The look on Busch’s face after Johnson wrecked him at Pocono spoke volumes about his disdain for the five-time champion.
When asked what caused his accident, he said: “Got wrecked on the straightaway. Jimmie drove straight through us.”
Busch and Johnson had had a series of run-ins during the past year, tangling at Sonoma and Chicago in 2009 and trading paint during a battle for the win at New Hampshire in July.
“Kurt is not very fond of me, never has been, so I think whenever he has a chance to take a shot at me, he’ll probably do so,” Johnson said after the Pocono incident.
Busch got his chance the next week at Watkins Glen, calling Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates “pretty boys.”
“We’ve got a high car count of wrecked cars over at our shop, and those guys on the 48 [of Johnson], and even Jeff Gordon … it’s been definitely a one-way street.
“The guys at Hendrick are pretty boys and get on “People” magazine covers and that’s their job. My job is to go out and race cars and that’s what I focus."