Bump In The Night

A little tap here, a little shove there and pretty soon you have what promises to be a colorful rivalry.

Jimmie Johnson, historically not the push-and-shove kind, and Tony Stewart, also not a bump-and-run, ruin-your-night kind of driver, are on the tit-for-tat plan so far this season, and Saturday night’s installment is the latest in their running war of words and fenders.

For reasons unknown to the rest of us, the two seem to have developed a sort of mutual dislike for each other on the track. It might have started at Daytona, when Johnson wandered up the race track in front of Stewart to protect his teammate and mentor, Jeff Gordon, in the closing lap. Stewart had led 107 laps that day, and he was going to finish no better than fourth even if he got past Johnson. Gordon had snookered Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the way to Turn 1 after Junior had left Stewart like a nickel tip with four laps to go. Gordon drove away and Earnhardt couldn’t catch him. Johnson, in the draft behind, was protecting his boss’ backside.

Stewart must have been fit to be tied at that moment, and the two rubbed hard coming down for the checkered. They rubbed again coming into Turn 1 on the cool-down, and both were called to the principal’s office after the race.

Both emerged saying it was no big deal, just one of them racin’ thangs, and off they went.

Fast-forward seven races to Phoenix, and it was the same thing all over again. Johnson said that Stewart was giving him the universal one-finger salute all over the place and driving him up and down the track, and that he brake=checked him headed into Turn 3 on lap 206. Stewart said Johnson punted him intentionally, he was driving crazy and what did Johnson think he was doing? He also scoffed at the idea that he brake-checked anyone.

With Talladega coming up, there had better be a cessation in the war of words and deeds. A shove at Talladega could put a car into orbit, or at least the flight path at Birmingham International, and that’s not something to joke around about.

Both drivers are fast, both are accomplished at what they do and are possessed of car control that comes along once or twice in a generation. For whatever reason, there seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion between the two as to who, exactly, is fomenting this tempest in a tea cup.

In the meantime it makes for interesting theater, and regardless of what side you’re on—or even if you don’t have a dog in the fight—a good rivalry always make the racing seem that much more spicy.

A little shove here, a little tap there…it just might turn out that a whole season could hang on the balance of one or the other. Rivalries are one thing. Blood feuds are something else altogether.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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