Two of NASCAR's most intense competitors shared a stage on Thursday afternoon to talk up the upcoming decisive, Sprint Cup season-ending Homestead race, and it took only two questions for the blades to come out.
Tony Stewart, looking sunburnt, and Carl Edwards, looking more nervous than he ever has, sit only three points apart in the standings, and sat just three feet apart from each other in a South Beach tent. And after the initial, perfunctory "what's-your-mindset" questions, Stewart and Edwards got down to the big question: If they were running side by side, would one of them dump the other to take home the Cup?
Stewart, naturally, didn't miss a beat. "I'd wreck my mom to win a championship," he said. "I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is for the national championship."
Edwards waited an extra beat, and then turned to Tony. "Did you say something?"
"You can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas," Stewart shot back.
Edwards counterpunched with a "scoreboard"-type comment about the points standings, but with only three points separating the two, it was like pointing at the scoreboard with a three-point lead.
"There's talkers and doers," Stewart replied, "and I've done this thing, twice."
But Edwards gained his footing. Stewart has said several times that he has nothing to lose, but Edwards didn't believe that assertion. "I'm not buying that," he said. "He has two trophies, and that's huge. But if you think he's not going to sleep at night and thinking about what it would mean to him, his sponsors, his team ... "
Stewart has maintained that his championship history gives him some hidden knowledge that he hasn't, as yet, disclosed, but Edwards isn't buying that argument either. "I don't know any part of the trophy that makes the car go faster this Sunday," Edwards said.
Once Edwards set his feet, this conference was a far cry from last year's painful affair, in which Denny Hamlin was so nervous his legs were shaking. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick circled in for the kill, and Hamlin apparently has yet to recover from the psychological beatdown he took that day.
Still, there's plenty of psychological warfare going on. At Wednesday's Office Depot sponsor celebration, the entree was — get this — roast duck. (Edwards is sponsored by AFLAC.) Confidence is running high in both camps, and both drivers fully expect to be in the hunt right until the final turn.
"As Kid Rock says, 'It ain't cocky if you back it up,' " Stewart said. "We've backed it up for the last three weeks."
"I don't worry about sponsors, I don't worry about money, I don't worry about women," Edwards said, this last prompting a smirk from Stewart. "I just worry about going as fast as I can."
If this were a prize fight, Stewart would win on points. But it was a split decision ... and Edwards also has an excellent chance to take the real prize on Sunday.