Why so serious? Championship 4 focused on title, not each other
Anyone expecting to see four drivers elated by the prospect of making it to the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup certainly found little joy at the Trump National Doral Miami Wednesday night.
At The Donald’s chic South Florida resort, Sprint Cup Series championship hopefuls Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman took the stage for an hour-long press conference that at times made it seem like they’d been waiting in line for two hours at the local DMV.
One by one, each driver took the stage without shaking hands, talking with or even making eye contact with the others. The question-and-answer session that followed was nearly totally devoid of mirth, with the possible exception of Harvick tweaking Logano about his role in helping Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski win at Talladega last month.
Other than that, their faces were stony, there voices visibly lacking in excitement.
The good news?
All four came to Homestead to win and are deadly serious about doing just that.
If you believe in the use of psychological warfare in such matters — the kinds of things that Jimmie Johnson used on Hamlin in 2010 and Tony Stewart on Carl Edwards in 2011 — the clear winner on the night was Harvick, who began his portion of the night by saying, "I’m just glad to get here tonight and not know there wasn’t a fifth participant added. I didn’t know if I was going to show up and Jeff Gordon was going to be here or not."
That, of course, was a clear reference to Gordon being added as a 13th Chaser last year and so many Gordon fans being furious about the four-time champion getting knocked out of the Chase Sunday at Phoenix.
The rest was awfully tame.
At one point, the four were asked what they would do to win if they were racing nose-to-tail with one of the others.
"I don’t plan on racing any of them," said Harvick. "I just want to beat them all and try and stay in front of them so we don’t have to put ourselves in position all day."
"Obviously, there’s a lot on the line, and we’ll be racing each other really hard, I’m sure, but we want to be able to win the championship the right way," added Logano.
"It’s the same answer, really," opined Newman. "We want to put on a good race for the fans. We want it to be interesting and exciting at the same time."
As for Hamlin, it was all about the R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
"I’ve raced everyone with respect," Hamlin said. "I feel like respect is something that’s hard to come by in our sport, but it’s not going to take someone wrecking someone to win this championship."
And when queried about what’s going to be the hardest part of winning the championship, Newman chimed in with bon mot: "Winning the race. I mean, that’s the toughest part each and every week is winning the race. You win the race this weekend, you win the championship, if you’re one of us four."
So the bottom line here is that championship weekend kicked off tonight in Miami.
Understandably, none of the drivers wanted to put himself out there or say anything even remotely controversial. When they hit the track in anger Friday, it will be balls to the wall.
Survive and advance.
Welcome to the Championship Round.