NASCAR drivers Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are in a fierce battle for the Nationwide Series championship. The combatants are separated by a mere nine points with just five races remaining in the season.
And because Sadler and Stenhouse have swapped the points lead four times in 2012 and went head-to-head last year for the title, it's easy to think there would be a natural rivalry between the two. But that is simply not the case, as the challengers hold one another in high regard.
"We have a mutual respect for each team," Stenhouse said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Our teams talk to each other. Our crew chiefs talk to each other. Everybody talks and gets along."
Sadler, 37, feels much the same way toward the man 12 years his junior.
"We definitely built a friendship last year even though we were racing against each other," Sadler said as he sat alongside Stenhouse. "We thoroughly respect each other's race teams, each other's ability and each other on the race track. It's just, 'Let's see who the best man is and see who wins at the end.' There is nothing evil to it at all; it's just mutual respect."
Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion, is even quick to praise Sadler for helping him become a better driver.
"I learned a lot from Elliott with his success and time in this sport," he said. "I was able to learn how to race for a championship – a lot of give-and-take from him – and I think that paid off a lot last year and it's paid off a lot this year."
That doesn't mean, however, that there haven't been times when they didn't see eye-to-eye. But when those times did arise – such as last month at Richmond when the two made contact that resulted in Sadler hitting the wall – they've been able to work through their issues.
"I think with the relationship we have, we were able to talk through it," Sadler said. "We might have been standing on different sides of the fence or had different views, but we were able to talk through it and move on from there."
Stenhouse echoed Sadler's comments and said the two "get along great" with the understanding that when the green flag falls, both are going to race each hard but respectfully.
"It's been a lot of fun racing Elliott," Stenhouse said. "He's a guy that I would hang out with off the racetrack. It's been a good two years."