Fireworks expected during Sprint Cup final

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:37 PM ET

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The folks who work in the ivory towers down at NASCAR’s Daytona Beach headquarters must surely be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick crashing and banging their way to a Sprint Cup championship on Sunday in the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Because ever since series racing director John Darby told drivers last February to “have at it boys” in order to put some of that old-time feuding and fighting back in the sport, there has been a sense that come down to the final race there would be fireworks galore.

And while bodies like the National Football League and the National Hockey League have battled against the perception that their games are all about the violence, NASCAR this season has openly cheered on such mayhem on the race track.

It pretty much turned a blind eye when Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were playing chicken at 190 m.p.h. at Atlanta, handing both only slaps on the wrists for what could have been ugly consequences of 3,400 pound Sprint Cup stock cars crashing at those speeds.

In fact, as the race that will decide the 2010 Sprint Cup championship draws closer, it is the picture of Hamlin, in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Harvick in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in a no-holds-barred cage match that NASCAR chooses to promote.

NASCAR boss Brian France gave the green light to the “whatever it takes to win" mantra himself at a press conference on the eve of the big race.

“I would expect (fireworks) if two or three are going down to the wire, I’ve said it before, this is a contact sport,” France said. “This is what you’re going to get (when you get) shoved around a little bit if somebody is trying to get by and you’re trying to win a championship.

“And despite how much is on the line, they have got to settle it on the track.”

If this isn’t an endorsement of wild west racing, I don’t know what is.

Yet all three of the championship contenders see it much the same way.

Kevin Harvick, who will start Sunday’s race 46 points behind Hamlin, said he’s got nothing to lose by throwing caution to the wind.

“There’s not a lot for us to lose,” he said.

Although Harvick said he is friends with both Hamlin and Johnson, those relationships mean nothing once he is strapped in his race car.

“I think we all understand that the friendships off the racetrack don’t follow onto the racetrack,” he said. “I think if it comes down to the end I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

Johnson, just 15 points back of Hamlin and trying for a historic fifth consecutive NASCAR championship, is on board with the beat-down-the-doors style of racing if that is what it takes to bring home the trophy.

“After 38 races or 36 points races at this point, the dreams of winning a championship that we all have, you’ll do anything you can to win,” he said. “It’s about going out and racing as hard as you can.”

While Hamlin was a little less direct in his overview of Sunday’s race strategy — after all he can control his own destiny simply by finishing in front of both Johnson and Harvick — he still said he was prepared for any and all scenarios if the race came down to pushing aside either of his competitors on the track.

“You would do what it takes to win a championship,” he said.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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