There are few things in sports better than seeing two rival athletes lock horns, refusing to give one another an inch.
What’s even better is when what happens in-game between two players spills out into the real world, causing friendships to be torn apart.
Which is exactly the situation these top athletes find themselves in, as they were friends at one point but now hate each other and may ultimately come to blows soon.
When you look at the current crop of NASCAR Cup Series drivers, there are plenty of drivers who are good friends off the track.
With most drivers climbing up the ranks from running Late Models at local short tracks to ARCA and into the truck and Xfinity Series, friendships are developed in the infields and driver bus lots along the way.
Of course, even though drivers can become lifelong friends off the track, that doesn’t mean they’re going to cut their friends any more slack than they do other competitors.
In fact, most often, it’s the drivers who are friends that race each other the hardest, as they know each other’s tendencies like the back of their hand.
And among all the drivers who do consider themselves friends, few have battled one another as often as Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.
While the pair are, without question, two of NASCAR’s best young talents, they also happen to be two of the best dirt Sprint Car racers in the world, and have had some epic battles on both asphalt and dirt over the years.
So when NASCAR fans saw Larson walk down Bell in a fight for second place in the final stage of Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, they knew they were about to see an epic battle take place.
Heading into turn one with 36 laps to go, Larson was able to out-brake Bell — who was being held up by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. — putting his no. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the inside of Bell.
However, the pair made contact, sending Bell’s no. 20 Toyota spinning off the racing surface, and giving Larson second place.
AROUND GOES CHRISTOPHER BELL!
Kyle Larson locks it up entering turn 1, and gets into the No. 20!
TV: NBCSN#NASCAR pic.twitter.com/cP0k3S5g4Q
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 8, 2021
Larson went on to earn a career high fifth win of the season — a win that tied him with Denny Hamlin for first in the regular season point standings and padded his now 28-point lead in the playoff standings — while Bell was relegated to a solid, but obviously disappointing, seventh place finish.
Immediately following the race, Larson proactively apologized to Bell, as he thought at the time that he didn’t have his car properly positioned to pull such a move, and probably should have been more patient.
“I want to say, big apology to Christopher Bell. I was inside, but I wasn’t inside enough,” Larson explained. “I needed to have a nose a few feet further ahead, and the angles just caught there in the middle and I ended up turning him. I hate that. I race with him a lot, he’s probably the one guy I race with the most in all my racing, so I hate to turn him like that. We’ve had incredible races.”
.@KyleLarsonRacin explains the contact between him and @CBellRacing during Sunday's battle for the lead at @WGI. pic.twitter.com/pIBlNUQfla
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 9, 2021
For his part, Bell was understandably frustrated by the incident, but most everyone left Sunday’s race believing full well that if any two drivers would be able to hash it out in the following days, it would be Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.
But as the week has gone on, that’s proven not to be the case, and now it appears the two aren’t going to be able to settle this anytime soon, possibly setting up an epic showdown as NASCAR’s regular season winds to a close with just three races to go before the playoffs.
During a radio interview on Monday, Bell unloaded on his closest rival, saying Larson didn’t give him the respect of racing him clean that Bell feels he gives others, and accusing Larson of “divebombing” him into the corner.
“If he would’ve had a run on me, and at least had momentum on me to get inside, then that would’ve be one thing,” Bell explained. “But to divebomb me from a good ways back and completely lock up [the brakes] going into the corner and turn me is pretty disheartening, but that’s road course racing.”
From there, it still seemed like this whole thing may blow over once the two were able to talk it out.
However, the next day, in his own radio interview, Larson revealed that Bell has refused to speak with him at all, a rarity amongst NASCAR drivers who generally at least hear the other person out, even if they ultimately choose to agree to disagree.
And to top it off, Larson went a step further, saying Bell’s “divebomb” claim isn’t true, that he now believes after watching the replay that he wasn’t completely at fault, and that Bell is basically being an immature baby by not speaking to him.
“I reached out and tried [to speak to Bell], but I guess he’s not willing to talk to me, which is kind of whatever,” Larson said. “I think any other adult in the field would at least have a conversation with you, but he doesn’t care to. So we’ll move on from it, and if he wants to get me back, that’s fine. Whatever.”
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Larson continued. “If it makes him sleep better at night to ignore me and then to want or whatever, so be it.”
ICYMI: @KyleLarsonRacin joined @DGodfatherMoody on #SXMSpeedway and shared his perspective on the incident between him and @CBellRacing.#NASCAR | @TeamHendrick | @WGI pic.twitter.com/4HIhLZyog6
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 10, 2021
Clearly, Bell isn’t happy about the fact that he had a rather certain top-5 finish taken away from him, but at the same time, the way he’s handled the ordeal has also hit a nerve with Larson, who now seems like he’s just as ready to go to battle over it as Bell.
Ultimately, they were both somewhat in the wrong in the on-track incident.
Larson probably should have been a bit more patient, considering there were 36 laps remaining, and Bell should have known Larson was going to make an attempt to out-brake him in one of the longest and heaviest braking zones on the track and acted accordingly, protecting his inside from Larson’s attack.
But once they were in that situation, Larson is right to say he’s not completely at fault.
Whether anyone — specifically Christopher Bell — likes it or not, Larson was able to gain enough of the inside position before Bell began to turn in that it was the 5 car’s corner.
Larson had the position, and the only reason things ended as badly for Bell as they did is because he continued his corner entry as if Larson wasn’t there at all.
Had Bell simply set his car up properly in the outside line on corner exit, he could have stalled any of Larson’s momentum as he was under heavy braking pressure to avoid contact, giving Bell a run off the corner and allowing him to fight off Larson through the subsequent uphill S’s and backstretch bus stop.
But instead, Bell found his car off the track and pointed the completely wrong direction, and now he wants to play victim and he is the aforementioned immature baby that Larson alluded to in his interview.
At the end of the day, that’s stock car racing.
It’s NASCAR at its best, and no one should be discouraging either of these guys from settling this on the track.
Needless to say, next week’s inaugural race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course should be rather interesting.
Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.