Commentary

Top rivalries marked by crashing cars, flying fists and swinging helmets

If Carl Edwards versus Kyle Busch evolves into a full-blown rivalry, it wouldn't be a first for NASCAR. Fellas named Petty, Yarborough, Earnhardt, Pearson and Allison have had toe-to-toe moments, too, writes David Newton.

Updated: August 29, 2008, 5:50 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Bobby Allison and YarboroughAP Photo/Ric FeldBobby Allison, left, ties up Cale Yarborough as brother Donnie Allison, not pictured, comes in swinging his helmet after the 1979 Daytona 500.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier. Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees. Reggie Miller versus Spike Lee. Bobby Clarke versus Eric Lindros. Hatfields versus McCoys.

Everybody loves a good feud.

Or rivalry, as some like to call them.

NASCAR used to have them all the time, and a new one might be brewing between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards after Saturday's sheet-metal exchange at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Here's a look at five of the best rivalries in NASCAR history and some of the events that got them started:

Richard Petty versus Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison was on his way to the garage after another epic battle against Richard Petty when Petty's brother, Maurice, stepped from between two trucks "and nailed me."

"I didn't have to fight then," Allison said. "I had an aunt there. She went to beating Maurice with her purse."

Such was the stuff that made this arguably the best rivalry in the sport.

Rivalry? Too early to tell
The Carl Edwards-Kyle Busch run-in at Bristol was great for NASCAR. But it's too soon to call this budding feud a rivalry, writes David Newton. Inside The Hauler

Allison once hit Petty's car so hard at Darlington that he knocked him up the banking and into the wall. Another time, he knocked Petty's car off a trailer.

The feud reached a boiling point during the final three laps of a 1972 race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. Petty was leading on Lap 367 when Allison drove low to make a pass. Petty cut him off, using another car to block.

Allison then locked into the side of Petty's car, sending him into the wall to take the lead. Petty rallied, and the two slammed into the wall a second time.

"This time, I cut right and held the steering wheel," Allison said. "I intended to drive him through the wall if necessary. I thought I had parked him. I broke loose and drove away. I was going through the second turn and starting up the backstretch. I heard this car to the inside of me, and it was Richard.

"I don't know to this day how he got off that wall."

The feud continued in Victory Lane, where Maurice decked an autograph-seeking fan over the head with his brother's helmet, thinking it was an Allison fan trying to get to Richard.

The list goes on and on.

"A poor dummy from Alabama was not allowed to compete with the multimillion-dollar, factory-type operation of Petty Enterprises," Allison said. "And I did."

Cale Yarborough versus Bobby and Donnie Allison
This rivalry was defined by the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500.

Cale Yarborough was fighting Donnie Allison for the lead when, as Yarborough recalls, he was shoved into the infield grass. He somehow steered his car back onto the track and slammed into the side of Allison's car, spinning both out.

Petty, who was a half-lap behind, cruised to the victory. Bobby Allison cruised home ninth and then back around to see whether he could give his brother a lift to the garage.

"I got closer to Donnie, and Cale started yelling at me that I had caused the wreck," Bobby said. "I think I questioned his ancestry. He ran at me. He yelled at me some more. I probably questioned his ancestry some more.

"And then he surprised me by hitting me in the face with his helmet. He was always a stocky little prizefighter-type guy. Certainly he didn't want to take on Donnie, 'cause Donnie would have mopped the floor up with him."

The moment, captured on CBS television with the Southeast held captive by a snow storm, is credited with vaulting NASCAR into national prominence.

Yarborough said the difference between his rivalry with the Allisons and those of today is he never intentionally wrecked anybody and the feud was over by the next weekend.

"Well, almost," Donnie once said.

Darrell Waltrip versus Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison
Darrell Waltrip kept banging the rear end of Bobby Allison's car during a race at North Wilkesboro, despite the pleas from his crew chief to back off. Allison eventually let off the gas and forced Waltrip to cut his wheel and slam hard into the wall.

Waltrip once forced Yarborough to spin out and lose a sure win at Darlington.

While they never exchanged blows off the track, they did more than their share of damage on it.

"I nicknamed him 'Jaws,''' Yarborough said. "When he first came in, he ran his mouth a lot. He still does, but now it's for fun."

The hatred Allison and Yarborough shared for Waltrip was no secret in the garage.

"We had been friends, and I had helped him early in his career," Allison said. "In fact, I had built cars for him before he got into the Winston Cup stuff. But he didn't want to be friends. It just kept us from cooperating on any kind of an effort that would have been good for both of us."

Allison can't imagine what might have happened had there been in-car cameras and live radio feeds during their exchanges.

"I'm sure that I uttered words that if it had been taped and played back, my mom would have washed my mouth out with soap," he said.

David Pearson versus Richard Petty
David Pearson had his hands full holding off Petty going into Turn 4 on the last lap of the 1976 Daytona 500. When Petty tried to pass on the inside, the cars scraped and both spun onto the apron.

Pearson pushed in the clutch and kept his engine running as the car spun around. With his rival's car stalled, he limped across the finish line for the win.

"The rivalry with Pearson was strictly trying to beat each other," Petty said. "There were no confrontations or anything. With Allison, it got to be more personal. We got into personal arguments. You didn't need to with Pearson."

Petty said he had fewer run-ins with Pearson than with any other driver. But their rivalry was highlighted by moments such as the last lap of the 1974 Daytona 500. Pearson was leading when he let off the gas and held up his arm as if to signal he was having engine problems. Petty went by, but only temporarily.

Pearson tracked his archrival down and, using the slingshot move that became famous at superspeedways such as Daytona and Talladega, blew past "The King" on the front stretch for the victory.

"We never did wreck each other and mean it," Pearson said.

And they never hated each other like their fans did.

"I liked Pearson. I liked Allison," Petty said. "[Pearson's] personality was just much different. If I had a little argument with Pearson, then in 15 minutes, we might get in the car and drive off. You couldn't do that with Allison."

Dale Earnhardt versus NASCAR
Former NASCAR president Bill France realized early that he might have troubles with Dale Earnhardt.

In the mid-1980s, he called Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine to Daytona Beach for a friendly meal. He told them he wouldn't tolerate their on-track antics that kept fabricators up all night and said the sport had outgrown such rivalries as the Pettys and Allisons.

Earnhardt and Bodine didn't have problems moving forward, but the former ran over enough other drivers to earn the nickname "The Intimidator." From his good friend Terry Labonte to Waltrip, he wouldn't let anybody stand in his way of winning.

"Earnhardt isn't choosy," Waltrip once said. "He tried to kill me."

Waltrip was referring to the 1986 race at Richmond in which Earnhardt turned him headfirst into the guardrail and eliminated the top four drivers.

"At one time or another, Earnhardt made everybody on the track mad," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president for corporate communications. "It was almost like, 'Did I miss anybody?'"

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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