Chase Contenders Swap Barbs, Praise In Miami
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Mothers, perceived personality flaws, reporters and team orders: No subject was sacred during Thursday’s Sprint Cup championship contenders press conference in Miami Beach.
The annual presser, held on the Thursdays before the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, featured just two contenders this year – points leader Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart, who will start the race three points behind.
But what the presser lacked in number of participants, it made up for in schtick.
Here are some snippets from the event:
Question: Your battle here has been trademark, you guys haven’t really clashed at all, been respectful towards each other. If it came down to the last lap and the only way around the other guy was to do a bump-n-run, would you dare do that, would you race each other clean?
TONY STEWART: “I’d wreck my mom to win a championship. I’ll wreck your mom to win a championship.
“I respect him as a driver, but this isn’t about friendships this weekend. 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.”
CARL EDWARDS: “Did you say something?”
TONY STEWART: “Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas when you come out there.”
CARL EDWARDS: “He’s got the talking part figured out. Problem is, you haven’t led the points yet this year, have you?”
TONY STEWART: “They say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.”
CARL EDWARDS: “That’s the funny thing. I’ve listened to you talk a lot today. You’ve talked a lot about your past successes. That is very respectable. And truly, all joking aside, that will make it more fun if we’re able to beat you. It will make me more proud.
“But this is going to be a good competition, you guys. Don’t think for a second that either one of us are going to let anything slide. We’re going to go out here, we’re going to race hard, and we’re going for this championship.
“I don’t think you could find two harder racers than us up here and we both know that about each other.”
The two also talked seriously about auto racing. Like when the topic of the revamped points system came up.
Q. Carl, NASCAR’s new points system has truly generated some big-time excitement here at Homestead.
You guys are working the championship a little differently, Carl with consistency, Tony with wins. Carl, you said you felt like the system made you focus on not having a bad race more so than winning. Do you still feel that way?
CARL EDWARDS: “Yeah. I mean, obviously we’re leading the points. We haven’t won one. Tony has won four of these in the Chase. There’s different approaches you can take to it.
“To be clear, we’ve not gone out and said, Hey, we’re not going to try to win this race, we’re going to cruise along. We’ve done our very best. For us, that’s one of the things I’ve most proud of. We’ve performed very well even on the days when things didn’t stack up in our favor. We had some pretty big hills we had to climb.
“I feel whatever points system you’ve got, over time you’re going to have close battles, you’re going to have some that aren’t so close. I think all of us are fortunate that it’s close this year, it’s exciting. It’s fun to be a part of something like this.”
TONY STEWART: “The thing that I’ve been asked a lot about this week and even last week is, they’re like, How can their points system be good if the guy that’s won four races is behind a guy that hasn’t won any races?
“The points system is good. It’s easy to look at that and say that it’s not good because of that fact. But what you got to understand is that, unlike other sports where it’s two teams against each other, it’s 43 teams, it’s a 10-race Chase. You accumulate points for 10 races.
“The fact we’ve won four races doesn’t mean we should be ahead of Carl. We did not do our job in some of the other races. That got us behind. Because of the new system, having the bonus points for winning, we were able to catch up and gain those points back.
“I think it’s proven to be a pretty good system so far. You have two guys within three points of each other going into the last race. I don’t know how you can say it’s bad.”
Questions about mutual respected were directed at the two drivers. This time, they answered in more serious tones.
Q. You guys have put on a pretty remarkable show, particularly over the last couple races. What have you
learned about each other through this process and how much respect have you gained for each other throughout the process of competing in this Chase?
TONY STEWART: “I don’t think the Chase has changed my level of respect for him. I’ve always respected him as a driver and a person. So the fact that you’re racing around him doesn’t change that because that’s what you do every week.
“I don’t know that we’ve really learned anything about each other than the fact that we both know we have to be on our game. We’ve forced each other to take what would be a good day and you have to make it great to succeed.
“We had Texas where we ran 1-2, the last week where we ran second and third. We’re keeping each other honest, in my opinion. It’s fun to have a championship race like that. You’re not worried about saying, Well, is this guy going to be able to recover? We’re forcing each other to both have good days.”
CARL EDWARDS: “I can echo that. It’s pretty neat to go out there and push each other to raise our level of performance. It’s been pretty interesting how it’s worked out. We’ve both been very fast the last couple of races, being able to race one another, race for the wins. That’s as good as it gets.
“I think Tony said it best after Texas. He said, This is what it’s about. It feels like a battle at your Saturday night dirt track. These are the kind of points battles that I grew up watching. It’s kind of neat to be a part of it.”
Both drivers will have teammates on the track on Sunday. They will also be drivers who are in the same makes of cars. Stewart and Edwards were asked a question about getting help in their bids to win the championship.
Q. Tony, everybody says there are no team orders out there. We all expect heavily there are. You have a lot of Ford drivers that are out there. You have Ryan, the Hendrick drivers. Any discussions the last week
or so to let you guys have positions, let you have a win, anything like that? Do you want it to come down to that?
TONY STEWART: “I don’t want it to come down to that. I feel like we can beat him heads up. We’ve raced for this position heads up and I think that’s the way it should end. It shouldn’t be about team orders.
“We saw a hint of it last week. The 16 car picked a pit right in front of us. We never had an issue with it. But you know that that can happen.
“Like we say, we’re racing for a national championship, so we are prepared that if something develops along that line, we have a countermeasure for the same thing.
“But, no, nobody’s planning that way. You want to win this thing straight up. You want to win it because you did a better job than he did, not because somebody else got involved in the equation. That will take away from it.”
CARL EDWARDS: “Yeah, I feel the same way about it. We want to win because we deserve to win this thing. That’s that.”
Finally, Edwards and Stewart were asked about the importance of Sunday’s race. The importance of winning it.
Q. Carl, you just mentioned you believe this could come down to whoever wins the race wins the championship. NASCAR hasn’t had a champion win its finale in 13 years. In both cases, if you win Sunday you win the title. With all the talk about winning lately, what would it mean to you personally and to NASCAR if that happens?
CARL EDWARDS: “To me it would be the coolest thing in the world if we drove into turn three side-by-side, battled through the corner, one of us won by a bumper. It would just be better if I won. It would be good if it came down to that.
“To me I could not be personally more proud of winning a championship that way. That’s something you dream about. Like I said, I think it could come down to that. I think that’s just neat as can be.”
TONY STEWART: “Yeah, I agree. It takes all the question of adding points, worrying about tiebreakers, this and that out of the equation when the fans can watch the guy that wins the race win the championship at the same time.
“This is probably the best chance of having a championship decided with a win that you’ve ever had.”No Comment