MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The Mouth brought his talents to South Beach on Thursday afternoon, offering up one-liners and battle cries meant to knock out his opponent before the fight even begins.
"I'd wreck my mom to win a championship," Tony Stewart told the media assembled inside a tent situated on the sands of Lummus Park. "This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. It's no holds barred this weekend. I didn't come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so we're going to go for it."
"Did you say something?" Edwards asked.
And so it began.
"Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas when you come out there," Stewart responded.
"He's got the talking part figured out," Edwards shot back. "Problem is, you haven't led the points yet this year, have you?"
(Actually he has, twice.)
"They say there's talkers and doers," Stewart replied, refusing to let Edwards have the last word. "I've done this twice."
These two heavyweights had gone out of their way to compliment one another for weeks. But as judgment day draws closer and the reality sets in that come Sunday night one of them will be the loser, their barrels are no longer armed with blanks. Stewart's anyway. His bullets are real, and he's firing away.
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"We're parked right beside each other in the garage. I see what he looks like. I see what his guys look like. I see what our guys look like, and I know how I feel about it. And I see a difference," Stewart said.
"Yeah, all you have to do is walk around the garage."
The instilling-doubt strategy isn't a new one. Jimmie Johnson played it to perfection exactly one year ago when he and Kevin Harvick turned then-points leader Denny Hamlin into a nervous pile of mush during the contenders' news conference. Three days later, Hamlin choked away a 15-point lead and the championship.
Edwards, though, isn't Hamlin.
In last Sunday's penultimate race in the 2011 Chase, he had every reason to tense up. Stewart was the class of the field at Phoenix, leading lap after lap after lap. Edwards wasn't far behind, but knew the situation: If Stewart won, he, not Edwards, would head to South Florida as the points leader.
But Edwards never pressed, never abandoned the plan that had him sitting on top of the standings for 23 of 34 weeks. At the checkered flag, Edwards crossed the finish line second, Stewart third – points lead still intact.
"We're not [nervous]," Edwards said. "If [saying] that helps them, that's fine. I know just enough about psychology to know that a lot of times people say things and talk about things and they project things.
"I've watched him really close. I've seen what he does. And I think we're in a great position. We truly are just going to go out and race him as hard as we can and if we win, we win. And if he wins, then they've earned it."
If Stewart hoped to gain an edge before hitting the track Friday, he failed. No one is buying his claim that he has nothing to lose – something he repeated at least six times Thursday. And in the end, it was Edwards who got in the last jab.
Asked if Stewart has an advantage because he's already won two championships, Edwards responded, "I don't know any part of that trophy that makes a car faster this Sunday. To me, it's about going out and performing this Sunday. We'll just see what happens."
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