Harvick snarky after dustup with Edwards

Published 5:37 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

CONCORD, N.C. – Note passing, name calling, playground scuffles and widespread gossip. Sound like the fifth grade? Well, that, too.

In this case, though, it’s the latest installment in NASCAR’s Chase for the championship.

The tension between Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick had not abated Friday, a day after the two had to be separated during a heated exchange in Harvick’s garage stall at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“Be careful who you wanna pick a fight with,” Harvick warned. “If you wanna pick a fight with the wrong person, sometimes it turns around and bites you, no matter how big and tough you think you are.”

A confident Harvick smirked through a short interview on pit road, where he stood just a few feet from Edwards during Nationwide Series qualifying. Neither driver dared look at each other, and Edwards downplayed the situation.

“I’ve got so many great things going on, I’m not going to worry about this,” Edwards said. “It just doesn’t matter. That’s the truth. I am what I am. He is what he is. If those things are different, that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me.”

This whole skirmish started when Edwards triggered a 12-car accident last week at Talladega, and Harvick criticized his driving style on live television by calling him “a pansy.”

Edwards left a sarcastic note after the race with Harvick’s pilot — some versions of the story claim Edwards stuck it on the airplane windshield — and followed up with a face-to-face during a break in Thursday’s practice session.

When Harvick tried to walk away, witnesses said Edwards grabbed his shoulder as if to turn him back around. Harvick responded by shoving him onto the hood of his car, and as crew members rushed in to break it up, witnesses said Edwards was put in a headlock.

“We were in our pit stall and just protected our turf,” Harvick smirked.

Edwards has declined to give his version of events, preferring to focus on the competition. He’s second in the Chase standings, just 72 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and needs to close the gap in Saturday night’s race at Lowe’s to keep his championship hopes alive.

“I couldn’t be more ready to race,” he said. “I feel better in the car today than I have in a long time. It’s kind of refreshing. Nobody likes to deal with that stuff. It’s not as much fun. It’s nice to get in the car and do what we’re here to do. Not the rest of the stuff.”

But it may not be so easy for Edwards to escape this drama. Harvick is a master manipulator, and from his sixth-place spot in the standings, it’s entirely possible he’s playing mind games with Edwards in a ploy to knock one of the championship favorites out of contention.

“If that’s the affect, hey, all is fair in love and war and The Chase,” said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. “Other leagues hide injuries or find bulletin board material. Maybe this is the same thing.”

Asked directly if he was trying to get in Edwards’ head, Harvick didn’t exactly deny it: “That’s not very hard to do,” he smiled.

Because of the close confines of NASCAR’s traveling community, neither driver can escape the whispers spreading like wildfire through the garage as everyone has dissected the latest feud.

“I guess Harvick didn’t have very nice things to say, and Carl got his feelings hurt,” said Kyle Busch, the resident “Bad Boy” who has argued with both drivers this season. “I’m going to go with Carl, with his build. But I still think Harvick is a pretty good scrapper.”

But Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t so sure that Edwards, a noted fitness buff, had an automatic edge.

“It would be tough,” Earnhardt said. “Kevin never backed down from anybody. But you know that Carl is pretty tough. It’d be quite interesting.”

Gossage is pouncing on the possibilities, ordering his staff to design an ad campaign around the scuffle to promote next month’s Chase race. Drama between drivers equals ticket sales, and in this collapsing economy, any extra attention on the sport helps promoters such as Gossage.

“It’s always good when you have a rivalry because we’d gotten to a point where, whether it was NASCAR’s action or sponsors’ action, some of the color and personality had been removed from the sport,” Gossage said. “We’ve gotten too “P.C.” as a sport, so it’s good to see a couple of guys point the finger at each other.”

The episode brought back memories for three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who played his share of mind games while racing rivals Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace.

Waltrip said everyone thought the games were funny back in his day, when drivers routinely left notes in the seat of the car. Waltrip even recalled “leaving Earnhardt a dead fish or a can of sardines.”

“You would have kind of thought that they would have thought (Edwards’ note) was funny, but it apparently got a little heated,” said Waltrip, now a Fox analyst. “You’re looking at two of the probably most high-strung drivers in either garage area, Nationwide or the Cup side. Carl’s passionate and he’s aggressive, and so is Kevin. That’s two bulls butting heads right there.”