This is how NASCAR racing is supposed to be: Two drivers who really don’t like each other and who drive for different teams and different manufacturers, wailing the crap out of each other over the final two laps of a race, each one desperately wanting to beat the other.
They make hard contact repeatedly, but they don’t wreck.
And in the end, the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is just 0.010 seconds.
It’s an only slightly more genteel version of the old Mad Max Thunderdome chant: "Two men enter. One man leaves. Two men enter. One man leaves."
But that’s exactly what happened Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, where Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet edged the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Carl Edwards in the closest finish ever at this track.
These two have a history, of course, dating back to 2008 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where they had a brief altercation in the garage that included some pushing and shoving and Edwards getting put in a headlock.
Afterward, Harvick was blunt about the end of the race.
"I don’t think there’s any real love lost between the two of us," Harvick said of Edwards. "You know, I knew that I was going to get hit, and I’m going to hit him in the same type of manner, just for the fact that I don’t want to spin him out, but you definitely want to rough him up because that’s not the guy that I want to lose to, and I know he doesn’t want to lose to me."
Edwards took the first shot on the final lap, roughing up Harvick going into Turn 3. And Harvick knew it was coming.
"I would have done the same thing, and really after the race that’s exactly what we said to each other," he said. "That’s really what NASCAR racing is all about. You’re coming to the checkered flag and he wants to win for his team and I want to win for my team, and there’s a lot on the line. It’s definitely the way that things should have been done. I fully expected it going into Turn 3 and would have done the same thing."
"if we would’ve had one more lap, I could have passed him clean, but it just wasn’t going to work without bumping him," Edwards said. "So I decided to hit him as hard as I did. I really didn’t want to wreck him, but I thought I moved him enough to get by, but that’s just racing."
Yes, it was, and it was a beautiful and brutal thing to witness.
Four races into the season is still too early to come to any definitive conclusions, but it sure looks like this low-downforce package is doing exactly what it was designed to do: produce great racing.
I hope we see a lot more fussin’ and feudin’ and photo finishes over the final 32 races of the season. And after the melee at PIR on Sunday, I’m confident that’ll happen.