ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Chase press conference turns feisty, as contenders trade barbs

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- This was no love fest between Hendrick Motorsports teammates. In a departure from the norm of the last few years, the three drivers left standing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- each of whom drives for a different ...

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- This was no love fest between Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

In a departure from the norm of the last few years, the three drivers left standing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- each of whom drives for a different team--used Thursday's question-and-answer session at the Hyatt Regency for their own purposes, namely to play mind games with each other.

Four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson acknowledged that this press conference had a completely different tenor.

"It changes the dynamics," Johnson said. "We all drive for three different teams. All have dreams of being champions for various different reasons. ... This year has been very exciting for our sport. There's been plenty of comments and stuff flying around from all angles, doesn't matter if it's drivers, crew chiefs, it's come from everywhere.

"It's good for our sport. I think it's something we all recognize as well. You got to have thick skin if you're going to be a pro athlete, especially in NASCAR, (with) all the opportunities we have to get at one another. ... It's good to have this banter; it's good to have this stuff. We're all having fun with it, making the most of it. Not just us three, but through the whole field."

ADVERTISEMENT

Hamlin, who leads Johnson by 15 points and Harvick by 46 entering Sunday's Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, said the first part of the press conference was "the most awkward 30 minutes I've ever been through." Hamlin sat between Johnson and Harvick on the dais and was the object of most of the early sniping.

Johnson, who came to Homestead with the points lead in each of his four championship seasons, used his newfound status as an underdog to his advantage.

"For us, I mean, we have nothing to lose," Johnson said. Turning toward Hamlin, he added, "This guy does. ..."

"When you're defending, you mind starts to change, and you start to think about the 'what ifs.' When you're chasing, it's more about 'What do I need to do?' It's been a more relaxed week for me, even though I'm down 15 points, than I've ever experienced before."

Hamlin insisted he has put last week's strategic misstep behind him. At Phoenix, Hamlin's team failed to take into account that other drivers--particularly Johnson and Harvick--might try to stretch their fuel mileage to the end of the race from pit stops on Laps 224 and 235 of 312, respectively. Hamlin came to pit road for fuel and two tires on Lap 298, finished 12th and lost a chance to open a significant lead heading to Homestead.

Instead, he lost ground to Johnson and Harvick, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Hamlin pounded his dashboard in frustration, and on Thursday, showed off a scab where his knuckles had bled.

"For me, when I said I was leaving Phoenix, I left Phoenix, (and) it was over with -- it was," Hamlin insisted.

Harvick and Johnson, however, weren't about to let the points leader forget about it.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I hope they put that same carburetor on your car Sunday," Harvick said.

"They won't," Hamlin replied.

"Hopefully, it's one that's worse," Johnson chimed in.

Though all three drivers took part in the banter, Sunday's race will be serious business, with a championship on the line. Hamlin can win outright by finishing second and leading the most laps. Johnson can win his fifth straight title by winning the race and leading the most laps.

Harvick needs help from both his rivals but said he was prepared to do whatever it takes to secure the seventh Cup championship -- and first since 1994 -- for Richard Childress Racing.

"Obviously, you want to outrun the other teams, and you want to do it as fair as you can," Harvick said. "I think, if it comes down to the end, I'll sleep fine. I'll do whatever I have to do."

What To Read Next
The 28th induction ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, May 4.
NASCAR on Ice, an ice racing event featuring NASCAR drivers and retired cars, was postponed a second time on Wednesday due to ice conditions.
Ice cross racers are competing in three divisions during multiple days of competition at Mont du Lac Resort in Superior as part of the U.S. Ice Cross Association's annual ATSX 250 event.
Three-day Ski de She camp and clinic in Cable will include Olympic champion Kikkan Randall.