Can you feel the anticipation?
We're just days away from action resuming at Martinsville Speedway and the echo of Tony Stewart promising to "bust" Joey Logano's backside after their altercation at Auto Club Speedway is still ringing in our ears.
Will Smoke make Logano his April fool this weekend? The three-time champion said it was time for Logano to "learn a lesson" and messages can be delivered in many forms.
Certainly, the half-mile paperclip provides the perfect stage for retaliation with its tight corners and flat, lightning fast straightaways. The drivers' code -- racing a fellow competitor the way he or she races you -- will be reevaluated and enforced many times over 500 laps. Plenty of "them racin' deals" can happen in the 20-plus seconds it takes to circle the shortest track on the Sprint Cup schedule -- and usually do.
Since 1949, the close quarter battles at Martinsville have not only ignited their fair share of grudges, but stoked ongoing rancor for years to come.
Several feuds have been simmering lately and could boil over come Sunday. Chances are Logano won't be the only driver watching his rearview mirror on Sunday. Here's the short list of drivers who might want to reinforce their bumpers before unloading their car at Martinsville:
1) Joey Logano -- While it's unlikely that any driver will exact revenge for the Denny Hamlin dustup, Logano has attracted several other potential enemies of late. Topping that list is Tony Stewart for obvious reasons, but Kurt Busch wasn't all too pleased with how the 22-year-old raced him at Auto Club Speedway either. Toss in his former run-ins with Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman, and it's clear that Logano tops Sprint Cup's most wanted list -- just not in a positive way.
2) Jeff Gordon -- The Goody's 500 was the race where it all started between Gordon and Clint Bowyer last year before hitting a crescendo at Phoenix. Do we really believe these competitors made up on P Diddy's yacht over New Year's Eve? Absolutely not. But Bowyer hates to be showered in any type of negativity. He welcomed the Logano-Hamlin feud to transfer the spotlight from him. "I'm so proud of Denny and Joey," Bowyer said with a laugh. "They did such a good job. It was great." Still, Gordon would be wise to exercise caution around Bowyer. There's no doubt Gordon has one coming.
3) Brian Vickers -- Vickers worked hard to forge a solid comeback in 2012 after Red Bull Racing dissolved. That doesn't erase the fact that in recent years he's clashed with two champions -- Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Martinsville provided the backdrop for Vickers' dispute with Kenseth during the 2011 Chase. In that same event, Vickers tested the tempers of Jamie McMurray and his buddy Jimmie Johnson, too. If Vickers was auditioning for a Cup ride that day, it certainly wasn't the game tape to send out with a resume. Vickers' run-in with Stewart at Sonoma earlier that year was equally memorable, but in the end, it was Tony's tail up in the tires. If Vickers is lucky, Logano's bull's-eye will be bigger than his.
4) Juan Pablo Montoya -- There's no driver in the Sprint Cup series with a target on his car as big as Montoya's, and it's not just because of his sponsor. If Montoya feels a fellow competitor has raced him wrong, he'll retaliate. And the list is long: Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and even his own teammate Jamie McMurray, who Mrs. Montoya chastised on Twitter. Although Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus is likely correct that Montoya is "just pissed off at the world," at some point some competitor will simply have enough -- and it won't be pretty. Heck, the jetdryer might even come for Montoya if he's not careful. But since Montoya's 30th in the point standings, will it matter?
5) Brad Keselowski -- It's tough being on top. Keselowski said last summer that he wished to neutralize his past transgressions before the Chase began and the strategy paid off with the championship. While Keselowski is much more calculated than he once was on the race track, it is likely Kyle Busch hasn't forgotten their run-in at Watkins Glen last August. Busch appears calmer than usual this season and focused on the title. However, Martinsville has a way of changing things.
For the unresolved undercard:
1) Kurt Busch vs. Ryan Newman -- These two simply don't care for each other and their tempers are only equal to their talent.
2) Matt Kenseth vs. Tony Stewart -- Stewart proved last August at Bristol that he could throw a helmet, but can he contend with Kenseth on Sunday? Kenseth has a solid shot at the title this year, while Stewart is already mid-pack in the point standings.
3) Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch -- This feud was all the rage in 2011. It started in May, when Harvick blocked Busch's car and went after the driver on pit road following the Sprint Cup race at Darlington. It carried into June at Kansas, when Harvick team owner Richard Childress got into a fight with Busch after Kyle ran into the side of Childress driver Joey Coulter's truck following the truck race. The intensity reached a fever pitch in the fall, when Busch dumped Ron Hornaday Jr. at the November truck race in Texas, forcing NASCAR to step in and park the Joe Gibbs racer for the remainder of that weekend, including the Sprint Cup race. This rivalry will continue until one of these drivers retires.
4) Kevin Harvick vs. Greg Biffle -- Who could forget the practice altercation between these two at Martinsville in 2011? But it's not the first time these drivers scuffled. The pair had to be pulled apart after a Nationwide race at Bristol in 2008. This is just another instance of no love lost between drivers.
5) Danica Patrick vs. Jeff Burton -- Patrick forgave Burton for dumping her at Phoenix last year. If she can catch him at Martinsville, it could get interesting. Perhaps a better opponent for Patrick might be Landon Cassill, since he'll likely be riding in the back with her on Sunday.