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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tight Chase battle bringing out the trash talk, mind games

Kevin Harvick has never been shy about giving his opinion. And that was definitely the case again at Phoenix when he was asked about the extremely confident (some would say cocky) comments from Denny Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford, after last week’s win. In true Harvick fashion, he said what a lot of fans were thinking all week.

“I think Mike should take his own advice to his driver and not insert your foot into your mouth when you don’t do something that winds up being something that you say it should be. I think the comments that he made after the race about being better than the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) team and all that stuff, I think he’s just trying to stir stuff up.”

Harvick continued by saying that type of cocky talk can only lead to disappointment, and that Ford was being a hypocrite because he had told Hamlin not to talk that way in the past.

“The only good thing that comes from being cocky like that is you better win because if you don’t, you’re going to have to answer a lot of questions about your comments when you get done. You create a lot more work than what you see initially when you say those things, if it all doesn’t go your way. I think when you’re trying to intimidate the guy who’s won four championships in a row, I think you might need to go rethink your strategy and just go out and worry about racing because it’s not really something that was probably necessary. He got all over Denny (Hamlin) at Dover for saying the things that he did about RCR and the organization and how disruptive their team, in my opinion all the things that he said seem to be a disruption to his team and now Denny is going to have to come in here and answer all those questions.”

Harvick is referring to Hamlin’s comments in the wake of Clint Bowyer’s penalties after the first Chase race, where he basically accused RCR of cheating, which apparently has been forgotten by Harvick, who probably doesn’t have a very high opinion of Mr. Hamlin and the Gibbs organization. In a sport where most people tend to like or at least tolerate each other and kiss and make up after any initial squabbles, I think Hamlin and Ford might be racking up a few legitimate enemies with their tough talk.

And Harvick is right about one thing: You have to back up that kind of tough talk with wins. Unfortunately, with 8 wins so far, that’s what Hamlin has been doing all year, and appear very likely to keep on doing today and next week at Homestead.

What does Jimmie think?

For his part, the guy being dissed in Ford’s Victory Lane comments next week, Jimmie Johnson was much more reserved when asked about Ford comments, focusing instead on what he needs to do and not what others are saying.

He did say that Ford has definitely provided some bulletin board material to motivate the #48 team, which finds itself in a position it hasn’t been in since 2005 – out of the points lead with 2 to go.

“The reason that I’m looking at the 11 is that he’s the one that’s ahead of us. When we were leading, I was looking back at both of them closely. I know Kevin’s (Harvick) right there I guess. With the 11 taking the points lead and all and all that’s been made of it, it’s been very easy just to talk about the 11 car, but the 29 is there and serious. Again, I expected comments to be made after the 11 won in Texas. Believe me; we have used those comments as motivation inside Hendrick Motorsports.There’s been plenty of references to the comments made. Guys are thinking about it during their sets in the gym, when they’re changing tires on pit stops, there have been emails internally – it’s been a great motivational tool. We certainly hope to show it this weekend.”

Johnson said his team is still worth of a championship, and that being in 2nd “sucks”, but that Ford’s comment about the #48 team being in panic mode don’t hold true.

“It sucks. I don’t want to be there,” he said. “Every year feels different and it does feel different being here this late in the game. We all know how special a run we’ve been on and how rare it is in sports period. In my mind as the years have gone by, I have really tried not to get used to it. I’ve always tried to be fearful of not being there and I don’t know if it’s just getting myself prepared for the day there’s a really big challenge or what, but I’m not as panicked as people may think. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that I know how good my race team is. I know how good we’re going to do here and in Homestead and I’m just trying not to over think it and just go out there and do my job.”

Asked whether he is now an underdog, the overall theme of Ford’s comments, Johnson was not concerned with labels, saying bluntly: “Hell, I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not sure where I see myself. I know I’m down and I need to get back on top.”

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will win the Chase and whether the streak of Jimmie Johnson will come to a close, but one thing is certain based on all the comments that have been flying this week: All three of them have the attitude and the ability needed to win races and the title.

I’m looking forward to see it all unfold at Phoenix, which races quite a bit like a short track and could provide a good opportunity to back those words up with a message on the race track.

I’m curious what NASCAR would do if, for example, Harvick put Hamlin into the wall with 20 to go at Phoenix. I doubt it will be that dramatic, but if it did happen, would they let “have at it boys” potentially determine the champion?

Whatever happens, I’m truly enjoying this Chase, which is turning out to be the best one since the original year in 2004. Good runs by all 3 guys today will setup a battle reminiscent of the 1992 Hooters 500, which is one of NASCAR’s most exciting races in its history due to the tight points battle it presented.

Watch out for Edwards today

It’s been two years since Carl Edwards won his 9th race of the 2008 season … and that’s the last time he won in the Cup series.

That streak may end today at Phoenix. Edwards has been dominant straight out he gate at Phoenix, leading all practice and taking the pole. This all comes on the heels of a very impressive win in the Nationwide series, and in both instances he has had a very strong car. He clearly has a car to win today, and hopes to be doing a backflip as the sun sets in Phoenix.

"This is the fastest car we've had for a long time and it's nice. I like it a lot,” Edward said. “The race is the race, but we still have the best pit stall and we've got the fastest race car in all the practices. If you could have that every race, you'd be really happy, so I think we'll do well and I think we're gonna be good.”

Edwards also discussed his hectic schedule the week after Homestead, when he’ll be going back to Europe to compete once again (along with new NAScAR convert Travis Pastrana) in the Race of Champions, an event where he beat 7-time Formula 1 champ Michael Schumacher a few years back in a one-on-one race.

“We’ll be traveling on Thanksgiving, so I’ll get to spend the morning with my family so that will be nice, and then we’ll travel over to Germany. I’m going with Travis Pastrana, so I’ll be curious to talk to him a little bit about that (coming to NASCAR). He’s a wild man. I think that will be good for him to come here. Hopefully, he does well. I think it would be good if he could do well, but that’s gonna be a blast. We go over there and I get to see a country I’ve never seen. I get to race against guys like Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Loeb, he’s amazing. That’ll be fun. It’ll be a rushed weekend. We leave on Thursday and I think we’ll be back on Monday or Tuesday for the banquet, but that’s a good way to relax, I think.”

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