Monday afternoon, Twitter became the 21st-century equivalent of one of those great boxing press conferences of the 70s, when the fighters, egged on by Don King, would holler at each other and the media and whip everyone into a frenzy. Darrell Waltrip (at @AllWaltrip) suggested that Hamlin and Harvick would have a hard time knocking off Johnson. Hamlin laughed it off, but Harvick took it a little more personally, particularly when another reader suggested that maybe Waltrip knew what he was talking about:
You can guess what happened from there. Certain aggrieved media members groused that Harvick hadn't exactly been showing them respect either, and then Harvick played the old "I'm just joking, can't you take a joke?" card. It was all a rather silly little dance.
On one hand, Harvick's got a minor point; nobody's really given him a chance to win this, given the level of his competition. And he's had difficulty with the media before, some of it valid, some of it a result of his own oversensitivity. As we noted here earlier this season, during another Harvick-Waltrip spat, Harvick apparently wants it both ways -- he wants to use the media to help shill his products, but he doesn't want that same media focusing on off-track drama ... even when he's stoking the fire.
Still, let's be honest. He's exactly where he ought to be in the public's perception: the third-best driver in Sprint Cup right this very moment. Can he pass Hamlin and Johnson? Absolutely. And if he does, it'll be an historic victory, the best come-from-behind win since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
But if he doesn't, does that mean he's being "disrespected"? Of course not. He's in every conversation about the Chase. How many times have you heard Kurt Busch's name lately? How about Matt Kenseth's? And those guys are in the Chase. They've got a lot more claim to being disrespected than Harvick.
The "respect" card is a tired one to play, the kind of thing that teams lacking in self-image and confidence trot out to try to pump themselves and their fanbase up. Thing is, it's about half a step away from a "nobody loves us! waaaaah!" whine. If Harvick, who certainly doesn't lack for image and confidence, is going to win this thing -- and I'm picking him to win Homestead, though not necessarily the Cup -- he doesn't need to trot out this kind of nonsense. Track and track only, Happy.
- Darrell Waltrip