DARLINGTON, S.C. - Armed with the circumstances of how each driver ended up at their current team and last week's late-race run-in at Richmond, Va., Dale Earnhardt Jr. fully expects his race fans to embrace a rivalry with Kyle Busch.
He also sees another reason the two may go head-to-head on more than one occasion this season: their respective performances on the track.
"It's good to have rivalries. If he's going to be the guy to beat, which I think he is right now, everybody is going to be watching his lap times and how fast he runs," Earnhardt Jr. said of Busch.
"When you're doing so good, there is a bit of a bull's eye on you. I'm sure he knows that."
Earnhardt Jr. also understands the unique situation that exists after he replaced Busch at Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch leads the Sprint Cup Series points standings entering this weekend's event at Darlington Raceway, while Earnhardt Jr. is third.
"In a lot of ways, there is a competitive 'us vs. them,' 'them vs. us' between him and I and between the teams, I guess. You don't want it to ever get to where it becomes a distraction," Earnhardt Jr. said.
"If Kyle outruns me or beats me or wrecks me or wins a race, I got to go out next week and concentrate on what I'm doing. If I start trying to outrun him, or try to beat him in every practice, I'm going to start wadding up race cars."
Earnhardt Jr. called Busch "an amazing race car driver with a lot of talent."
"I think the way he handled the situation this week in Charlotte, I think that's the best I've ever seen him handle a situation."
Ironically, Busch was the fastest driver in Thursday's first practice session on the newly repaved track, while Earnhardt Jr. was third fastest.