|The Big 3, here in Atlanta, had a fun Press conference Thursday in Miami|
Denny Hamlin sat between Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson for the press conference and both drivers had their fun with Hamlin. Each was asked about being up there together and how it made them feel (Harvick and Johnson both stayed with Ron Hornaday when they first came to North Carolina and NASCAR, and Hamlin considers Harvick among his closer friends among the drivers).
"This has probably been one of the most awkward 30 minutes I've been through,'' Hamlin said. "My relationship with Kevin probably started about a year ago. He's got that go-kart race track at his house, so I proceeded to spend a bunch of money and take a go-kart there and race it a little bit and obviously got to know him a little bit more through that. Jimmmie, our relationship, has been professional for the most part. We understand that we have the same goal and we're all going for it and that's where the intensity that you see, whether it be back-and-forth comments, comes from. When you have three drivers that tight, any one is searching for an edge any way that they can. I think that's where you see the competitive nature of us.''
Said Harvick of Hamlin: "He definitely seems like the most nervous.''
Countered Hamlin: "I'm between you.''
When all three were asked what irked each other the other, Johnson spoke of Hamlin being in the lead and Harvick lurking. Hamlin then added: "I was told in these situations to deflect, so I turn to Kevin.''
Later, after the session when the drivers had their own areas for additional questions, Hamlin was asked again what irked him about Johnson and Harvick. Hamlin answered this time, saying: "That's not a whole lot that irks me about them. Their driving styles, I'm OK with, things like that. If I make an argument and you force an answer out, I'll say that Jimmie is just too corporate at times. Maybe that's the one thing that irks me. I know he has a whole lot of feelings bottled up in there, he just doesn't always express them more like me. Kevin, maybe it's the other way around, maybe he's too vocal, more like myself. Other than that, on the race track, I have absolutely no problem with them.''
Harvick, kept needling throughout the session. When asked about the importance of pit crew and pit strategy, Harvick, referenced how Hamlin had such poor fuel mileage at Phoenix, having to pit late, which allowed Harvick and Johnson gain back many points. Harvick then patted Hamlin and said: "I hope they put that same carburetor on your car Sunday.''
Hamlin said: "It won't be.''
Harvick then added: "Hopefully, it's one that's worse.''
When asked about how they would handle the pressure, Hamlin got going and then got tongue tied that led to some fun from Johnson. Hamlin started by saying: "Inside the car, it's really all business. The busier I am outside the race car, probably the more focused I'd be inside the race car on a race weekend. I try not to give myself too much time with msyelf. You know what I mean?''
Johnson then whispered into Hamlin's ear, eliciting a smile.
"I'll stop there,'' Hamlin said.
A few more things from the drivers:
KEVIN HARVICK: "I think for me, I was more nervous about starting the Chase and more uptight as we went through the first five, six, seven weeks about not being able to be in contention when we got to this point. Sure, we're 46 points behind, but I was more nervous about failing to get to this point than I had been last week or this week.
I've been more relaxed this week than I have been the whole Chase to be honest with you, because this is the moment you live for. This is the easy part, in my opinion, to go out and race the car for a championship. This week you get all the things that you asked for. The only thing that's not guaranteed is the championship.
But for our team in particular, you look at last year, it was just a total disaster. It was the worst year that we've ever had at RCR. So it's a win‑win situation for us. There's no losing in a situation for everybody at RCR and myself. We've learned a lot of things that can help us go forward.
On the frustration from last weekend's finish at Phoenix:
For me, when I said I was leaving Phoenix, I left Phoenix, it was over with, it was. It was completely over with. The only time I relived it is when I got home, I do my normal thing, always rewatch the races no matter what to learn as much as I can. Once that I was done, turned the TV off, it was done. I thought about it a little bit before I went to bed. When I woke up the next day, just kept myself busy.
For me, I got a lot of encouraging text messages talking about, This is a great situation you're in. If you said going into the Chase you'd have the lead, would you take it? I would have definitely said yes.
We've all had opportunities, all three of us had opportunities to break away from the pack at times. It seems like the other two constantly just make that tough and continue to put themselves in position to gain ground.
It's fitting that we're in the situation, all three of us, with this one race to go.
On the gamesmanship displayed Thursday and throughout the Chase
Jimmie Johnson: "I just think it's natural to poke at whoever is the guy, and I've been up there as the leader and had the others poking at me. Rub someone the wrong way today, it didn't matter. I know how this event alone has affected me. Everybody handles anything differently, but I would think that there's going to be plenty of thoughts in his mind over the next couple of nights.''
- Notes from Dustin Long, Virginia Pilot