The cutesy mind games between the Chase for the Cup contenders usually starts a few questions into the Thursday Media Day session. A “the pressure’s all on him/them” here, a light personal dig there — just enough to fill media space and whet appetites for Sunday’s Sprint Cup finale.
So, what happened Thursday at Hollywood’s Diplomat Resort? Cordiality ruled. That’s an upset, especially for a foursome that includes defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, two drivers with a prickly history, sometimes with each other.
Ah, but the final foursome also includes retiring all-time great Jeff Gordon.
“I think it’s his fault,” Harvick said, indicating Gordon, who was sitting to his left. “We’re going to blame it on him. It’s a little bit different, I think, just for the fact that I know we all want to win. We all want to have a championship. But in the end, you don’t want to be the guy that was disrespectful at Jeff Gordon’s last press conference or say something that’s just a total jack--- move.”
Said Gordon: “I hope he’s thinking like that on Sunday, too.”
Harvick replied, “It’s Thursday, Jeff. It’s Thursday.
“I think there’s a lot of respect for where everybody is. You look at Martin [Truex Jr.] and everything that those guys have done with what they’ve gotten in Colorado, and here they are,” Harvick continued. “You look at Kyle breaking his leg and fighting back, and Jeff, who’s going to retire and run the last race — there’s really no reason to create a story. There’s no reason to create a moment.
“If you [reporters] can’t find something to write about on this stage, y’all need to be fired, so make some good stories and make sure there’s enough people watching. We’re depending on you.”
Earlier, Gordon summed up the four stories — his retirement, Harvick going for a repeat, Busch’s comeback from injury, Truex’s one-car team being the Boise State of the series — as “[Harvick’s] the favorite. We’re the sentimentals.”
How far is too far?
Racing history is filled with drivers taking wheel-to-wheel or doorhandle-to-doorhandle one step further with a race or a championship on the line — Alain Prost on Ayrton Senna (and vice versa) in Formula One, Dale Earnhardt his first decade in NASCAR’s top series.
So when Truex said, “I don’t think anyone is just going to go out there and wreck someone to try to get the championship, at least that’s not the way I would do it,” a reporter spoke the thoughts of several in the room when she piped up with a disbelieving “Why not?”
After some chuckling among the four, Gordon handled the answer.
“I don’t think that any of us currently have any beefs among one another, and we have a lot of respect for one another,” he said. “The ultimate is that you’re running second and you have to pass one of these guys on the final lap, and it’s some bold and exciting move but a clean move, maybe just a little fender rub or something like that, that gets you the win. To me, that’s the ultimate. That’s how everybody wishes and hopes that they could do it.
“If you put the bumper to them and they spin, they crash, even if you crossed the line first, that’s going to weigh on you a little bit. Yeah, you might be the champion, but it’s still going to have sort of a shadow over it,” he continued. “I think if you ask us right now what we’d be willing to do, it’s we want to go do it in a clean way. But you don’t know how you’re going to react on that last lap when you’ve had it in sight, and you don’t know what’s going to go on throughout the whole race that may create an opportunity.”
In this second year of the Chase for the Cup’s system that whittles contenders down to a final four for Homestead, Harvick is the only returning member of the final four.
“As you look at this new format, it’s hard to get to this point, no matter how you line it up,” Harvick said. “This year was much different for us and much more of a scramble than last year just because of all the things that have happened and situations. That made our team stronger having to deal with all that, managing that.
“This Chase is much different to manage than before because it’s a survive-and-advance situation. There’s only four guys, so the odds are slim you get back here twice. We need to try to take advantage of that.”