Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s relationship with Lance McGrew was getting testy during a long night at Darlington Raceway, growing more tense by the lap as driver and crew chief sniped at each other over the team radio.
At one point, Earnhardt Jr. accused McGrew of "having a line for everything," and McGrew fired back that his driver possessed the same habit.
And yet, after the race and an 18th-place finish, the pair put on a display that showed everything between them isn't what it seemed.
Sitting side-by-side on the step of the No. 88 hauler following an animated discussion, Earnhardt Jr. told a pair of reporters to interview he and his crew chief at the same time.
Uh, OK. This could be awkward.
So, Dale, that was an interesting night...
"I mean, I was alright," he said. "We wrecked that car in practice and we were so far off, and I thought, ‘This is going to be one of the worst weekends we've had in a long time.' We qualified OK and we ran OK, we just got tight in the middle part of the race and tighter and tighter. They changed everything they could and we just never got turning and couldn't do nothing."
OK, but what about all the back-and-forth comments between the two of you? Was that in the heat of the moment?
"There's no heat," Earnhardt Jr. said.
"There is no heat of the moment," McGrew said at the same time.
Public relations representative Mike Davis stepped in and joked, "We're going to have to separate you guys!"
McGrew: "Watch out, now, easy!"
Earnhardt Jr. (laughing): "I'm ready to flinch, man! Lookout!"
McGrew: "We get along terrible."
And then, like a pair of twin brothers, driver and crew chief launched into a finish-my-sentence explanation of their radio chatter.
Earnhardt Jr.: "The great thing about it is..."
McGrew: "...He's a smartass, and I'm a smartass back. That's just how it works."
Earnhardt Jr.: "And we both appreciate each other's ability to be smartasses..."
McGrew: "...to be smartasses, and actually have a comeback."
So is the radio chatter a product of trying to out-do one another?
Earnhardt Jr: "No."
Earnhardt Jr.: "We're just trying to finish. We're trying to finish the conversation but nobody wants the other..."
McGrew: "...Nobody wants to give up, absolutely not."
Earnhardt Jr: "...to have the last word."
The back-and-forth ended as both chuckled, and Earnhardt Jr. took a more serious tone.
"It's cool," he said. "We just didn't run good. We did OK. It wasn't the worst run we've ever had. Where'd we finish? 18th? I passed some people, but you said I was still the last car on the lead lap."
"They weren't on our lap," McGrew responded.
"Oh," Earnhardt Jr. said.
Hang on a second. So Dale, you're not frustrated, even though you sounded that way at times on the radio?
"What am I gonna do? I'm gonna let Lance handle it," he said, putting his hand on McGrew's shoulder and squeezing as the crew chief burst into laughter. "Next week will be better."
And then the Earnhardt Jr./McGrew comedy act resumed.
McGrew, imitating Earnhardt Jr.: "I don't know why I was bad! Ask Lance!"
Earnhardt Jr.: "We ran really good at the beginning. I don't know, he'll go home, he'll fuckin' look at what he can..."
McGrew: "I think the best thing right now is we have a notebook. We didn't have that..."
Earnhardt Jr.: "We never ran together here, so..."
McGrew: "...and now we can go back and we can look and we can see..."
Earnhardt Jr.: "...we definitely ran better here this time than last year here. I think this is one of the worst races I had last year..."
McGrew: "Yeah, it was horrible..."
Earnhardt Jr.: "...I mean, we were moving forward, we see we can do it. We just got to be able to finish. We got..."
McGrew: "We overcame a cut right-rear tire."
Earnhardt Jr.: "We did."
McGrew: "That was good."
Earnhardt Jr.: "Yeah. I was wishing I'd have cut one there with 40 to go so I could have come in and get some stickers (tires). That'd have been nice. It'll be alright. I mean, I enjoy working with him every week still."
The conversation wound down again, and McGrew suddenly had a facial expression that indicated he was about to say something important, something earth-shattering, something profound.
"Can I get y'all off the lift gate so we can, like, load the car?" he said.
The encore performance of the comedy tour, we can only assume, will be next week at Dover.