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Biggest Rivalry – Feud In The Making – Busch Vs Earnhardt Jr

It had to happen at some point. The villain, with little following and a dark reputation, gets dumped by NASCAR’s most famous team in favor of the hero with a prodigious fan base. The brash villain signs with another power racing team and supposedly harbors a grudge against the hero, whose popularity skyrockets as he rakes in a lot more money amid more fame despite numbers inferior to his. A chance encounter on the race track in the final moments at Richmond pits the two drivers in a close fight for the lead. Villain and Hero work together, and the latter’s best chance for a long-awaited victory goes up in smoke.

It wasn’t a fairy tale. Kyle Busch was driving similarly to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. — the unrepentant bully himself — when he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. brushed their noses with just over three laps to go at the Dan Lowry 400. The two drivers had refused to budge with the lead in play. The resulting spin-out has kept Junior winless for two consecutive years and the last 72 races.

Busch had already argued with Steven Wallace after Friday’s Nationwide Series race, when Wallace grabbed and shoved an angry Busch by the helmet. Late the following night, Earnhardt Jr. and Busch inherited their positions when 381 lap leader Denny Hamlin developed a slow leak on one of his tires. Junior took and held the early lead on a three-wide pass before Hamlin parked his faded Toyota on the track and drew a caution, which bundled the field and closed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch , closer to the No. 88 Chevrolet. Hamlin, who needed a better opening on pit road, was given a two-lap penalty for triggering the yellow flag.

Dale Jr. knocked out Busch the same way last fall in Kansas City, as he and “Rowdy” battled it out for victory and Busch still had a shot at winning the series championship. No less than four bumps in Cup races have occurred between the two since the spring of 2007, all resulting in crashes. Still, Junior felt that the rotation of Richmond could and should have been avoided.

The technical explanation was that by getting too close to Junior, who was on the outside, Busch’s #18 Toyota lost airflow and slack off too much. Post-race tempers flared, not between Dale Jr. and “Shrub” — Busch’s least favorable nickname — but among the Earnhardt Jr. fans in attendance and some of his Hendrick crew. One of the crew members facing Busch on pit road, Rick Pigeon, was part of his No. 5 crew at Hendrick Motorsports last season. Instinctive outbursts, futile threats, and considerable rancor continue to linger from the legions of Junior’s sheltered emails.

Mark Martin, driving Junior’s former number 8 for Dale Earnhardt Inc., finished third at Richmond, just behind Busch and race winner Clint Bowyer, who slid under to take the lead after the Busch bump /Junior. Earnhardt Jr. came in 15th. Bowyer drives for Richard Childress Racing, the former employer of Earnhardt Sr. and a Junior team shunned in favor of a Hendrick race.

Busch and Junior had not spoken or seen each other before facing off on the track last weekend at Darlington. Both drivers play down any hard feelings from the May 3 race, but a rivalry of huge impact continues to brew.

Despite no wins in 2008, Earnhardt Jr. was still third in the points standings heading into May 10. Sprint Cup Series races. He has five other victories in the Nationwide (3) and Craftsman Truck (2) series.

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