- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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In one of the more heated feuds in recent NASCAR history the two fought on the hood of Harvick's No. 33 Nationwide Series car at CMS, the site of Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. Witnesses said Edwards had his right hand around Harvick's throat before the two were separated. It was so intense they left a dent in the hood of Harvick's car.
It didn't end there.
Last year, after Edwards purposely wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, Harvick intervened and called Edwards "fake as hell."
"You can't be the nice guy, you can't be the bad guy, and you can't be the bully," Harvick said. "So, I mean, that's just how I feel about that."
Edwards responded by saying: "I have absolutely no respect for Kevin Harvick. I think he's a bad person. That's my opinion. I've told him that."
So when Harvick informed us last week at CMS that the two had put their differences aside, a few jaws dropped. How could this be? How could the fake person become real and the bad person become good?
It's really simple. They got to know each other. Edwards donated $15,000 worth of toys to Harvick's foundation to help orphans, and the good deed sparked a conversation.
"That really broke the ice," Harvick said. "I looked at that as somebody doing good for you, so you reach out and it all worked out."
Harvick genuinely was touched by Edwards' generosity, realizing it wasn't an act. Those who witnessed Edwards speaking for the Charlotte Speedway Children's Charity on Wednesday night probably would agree.
And if you've seen Harvick at his charity events you know that he's really not a bad person.
That doesn't mean the same bonding will happen one day with Harvick and Kyle Busch, whose post-race pit road run-in at Darlington Raceway landed both on probation through mid-June.
As Clint Bowyer said during Monday night's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, "I don't think those two really care for each other; that's pretty genuine."
But what happened with Harvick and Edwards does show that the fiercest of rivals can get along with the right nudge. They actually sound like they like each other now.
"He does a really neat thing for some orphans and his foundation contacted us and we participated in it," Edwards said. "They did a really good thing there and we got to talking. I thought it was a good conversation and we decided to move forward and try to start over. I thought that was a pretty good deal."
Said Harvick, " It's kind of been fun just to kind of talk to him and see what kind of person he is. Sometimes that stuff just happens and sometimes it doesn't. It just happened for us this year. I don't know about the rest of them."
Yes, those are the two who appeared ready to kill each other here in 2008. It got me to thinking, particularly after watching Bobby Allison and David Pearson inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can't talk about the greatest rivalries in NASCAR history without mentioning those two. Pearson and Richard Petty easily top the list for most. Allison and Petty or Allison and Darrell Waltrip aren't far behind.
But they were great rivalries because they always were fighting for wins on the track, not fighting in the garage or anywhere else. Heck, Pearson calls Petty his hero, the driver who motivated him to be as good as he was.
"I run hard because he'd made me run hard," Pearson said. "Sometimes he would make a mistake and I'd pass him. Of course, I didn't never make no mistakes. I always accused him of having big engines when he passed me.
"But he's a good sport. I've had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with 'cause I know if I ever went to a racetrack and he was there, if I could beat him, I'd win the race."
Allison said the same thing about Petty and others that he considered rivals.
"Richard Petty was the ultimate achiever, and so he set a good goal for everybody to try to get to," Allison said. "So I raced Richard hard a lot. Richard and I had a few times where we thought we were on the other person's territory. But it's racing and the next week you have to race again, so you can't carry a grudge."
That's where NASCAR's "boys, have at it" edict seems to have been misconstrued, or maybe even gotten out of hand. For some reason some correlate fighting, as we saw with Harvick and Edwards, with rivalries.
What makes a rivalry is drivers competing week in and week out for wins and titles. If they have an occasional fender bender -- such as the one Pearson and Petty had in the famous 1976 Daytona 500 finish, in which they wrecked each other coming off the final turn and Pearson limped across the line for the win -- all the better.
But the two didn't fight after what arguably was the most dramatic finish in NASCAR history. As Petty said afterwards, "It was just one of those racing deals."
If that happened today we'd be looking for the fight because there isn't the mutual respect among most top drivers that Pearson and Petty had for one another.
"He was one of my best friends," Pearson said of Petty. "We ain't never argued about nothing. Even at Daytona, people said, 'Were you mad?' I said, 'No, but I was fixing to be.'"
Despite his 84 wins and championship Allison may best be remembered for the 1979 donnybrook he and brother Donnie had with Cale Yarborough in the infield grass at Daytona.
But had the two not been competing for wins before and after that event it wouldn't have been a rivalry. It just would have been a good fight.
So it's a good thing Edwards and Harvick put their differences aside. It'll be a lot more fun watching them compete for wins and championships than having them call each other childish names.
If it took a charitable donation to get them together, that's OK.
"In the end, that's your common denominator, the charity stuff," said Kyle Petty, who has witnessed many drivers come together through his charity, the Victory Junction Gang Camp for terminally ill children. "It softens stuff.
"Nowadays, you're thrown together so much. You can be double-mad at somebody, but you'd better get over it pretty quick."
It took Edwards and Harvick three years, but they appear over it. Now with Edwards in the points lead and Harvick in fifth, and with the two competing for wins almost every week, this can turn into a real rivalry with mutual respect.
They easily could be fighting for the win on Sunday in NASCAR's longest race.
Maybe the same will happen one day with Harvick and Busch.
Or maybe not.
"You always think that eventually guys will see it differently," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "Sometimes it works out when they're still racing. Sometimes it works out after the fact."
But most of the time good rivalries come out of good racing, not fighting.
Harvick and Edwards get that now.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.