It's the angel vs. the devil, or at least that's how they're portraying themselves. Carl Edwards vs. Kevin Harvick in the hunt for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, which is oh-so-convenient considering they don't like each other much.
Edwards, the points leader, talks about how he wants to "win fair." Harvick, the chaser who's 26 points back, declares his intention to do "whatever you have to do to win the championship." Both are gearing up for Martinsville, NASCAR's version of a Wild West saloon where fisticuffs fly just because.
In this case, Sunday's TUMS 500 presents Harvick with his last best chance at making up ground on Edwards and his teammate Matt Kenseth in the Chase for the 2011 title. With four races to go, Harvick sits 26 points back of Edwards, 12 behind Kenseth. Of the tracks that remain, all three drivers have solid records at Texas, the new configuration makes Phoenix a wild card and Edwards hasn't finished worse than eighth at Homestead-Miami Speedway in six years.
That leaves Martinsville. Edwards and Kenseth have been spotty on the half-mile paperclip, while Harvick won there back in April. If Harvick's going to cut a hunk out of that deficit, the opportunity is now.
"I am all for doing whatever you have to do to win the championship," Harvick said Friday. "Some people may not agree, but at this point it is really all about trying to win the race and trying to win a championship. However you think you need to go about that differs between teams, but you have to do what you have to do."
Harvick carried the same attitude through last year's Chase when he went up against Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson for the 2010 championship. When asked then if he'd go to any length to win the title, he responded, "Absolutely."
"I won't lose sleep over it," he added. "Ask for forgiveness later."
And that was in a battle between drivers he actually likes. So imagine to what lengths he'll be willing to go to against Edwards. The two clearly don't care for each other. They got into a fistfight three years ago and have since been open about their feelings toward the other, with Harvick calling Edwards "fake as hell" and Edwards saying Harvick is a "bad person."
The contrast between the two couldn't be more stark, real or otherwise. Because while Harvick is talking about going to any length to win a title, Edwards is saying this:
"There are certain competitors out there that I feel like if you're walking down the street and a dollar bill fell out of your back pocket and nobody in the world saw it, they'd pick it up and they'd run up to you and say, 'Hey, Carl. You dropped your dollar.' They're fair, honest people. And then there are other competitors who would do anything to beat you, and I think you can only race people based on your opinion of them and make the best decision you can. … I feel guilty if I do something that I feel is kind of wrong or outside the rules, so I try not to do that stuff. I'd rather win fair. That's just the way I am and I think that’s the way most of these guys are out here."
Is this a direct shot at Harvick? Maybe. At the very least, Edwards likely hedged with "most of these guys" after considering his character assessment of Harvick, who outwardly couldn't care less what anyone thinks. As he made clear prior to last year's season finale, the win-at-all-costs attitude is one that's beaten into you when you drive for Richard Childress Racing. Ask for forgiveness later. If it's granted, great, if not, you still have the backing of your team, and they're the only ones you have to answer to.
"It's one of those things where you do what you have to do to try to win the championship and you suffer the consequences later," Harvick said Friday. "I think the line is further away when you're 26 points behind with four races left. What's fair in my mind is probably not what's fair in the guys [minds] in the first two spots [Edwards and Kenseth]. It's just a matter of doing what you have to do for your team, and sometimes fair in the end doesn't win the championship."
What exactly that means we're about to find out over the next four weeks.