Some athletes believe trash talk is about volume. Yell and gesture and attract attention by shouting some cliché such as “How you like me now?”
Trash talk has never been about volume. The less you have to say, the louder you have to say it. The trick is to get inside. Unnerve the competition, and by doing so get them to think about something other than what they’re supposed to think about.
Kevin Harvick talked trash beautifully last season before the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He went after Joey Logano, who was young and competing for his first championship. Maybe Harvick would have won the Ford Ecoboost 400 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship if he hadn’t talked, and maybe Logano still would have finished 16th.
Just as some races have pre-race air shows or concerts, Homestead-Miami has trash talk. In 2010, it was Harvick and Jimmie Johnson against Denny Hamlin. In 2011, it was Tony Stewart on Carl Edwards.
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On Thursday, Harvick was on a stage at the Diplomat, a stately and elegant hotel on the water north of Miami. Harvick sat on the right. On his left were, in this order, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and finally Martin Truex.
Each came with a story. Harvick is the favorite and defending champion. Gordon is the retiring legend. Busch underwent two major developments this season. He broke his leg and turned nice. Truex is the underdog. He works for a one-car operation based in Denver, Colo.
Whose story is best?
“I’m not even close to the story,” says Harvick. “It’s between those three.”
“He’s the favorite,” Gordon says of Harvick. “We’re the sentimentals.”
Harvick and the Sentimentals sounds like a Jersey Boys band.
“The way I see it, these three next to me are supposed to win the championship,” says Truex. “And I’m probably not. So it’s a pretty cool story in itself.”
A fan asked a question that was delivered by a media member. If you can’t win, who would you like to see win?
“I don’t think that’s an approved question,” says Harvick. “They don’t have an affiliation.
“See, you guys are missing the whole goal. The whole goal is to not (tick) anybody off to the point where ... you motivate them. I think they’re all great stories.”
“I’m going with Harvick,” says Gordon. “I’m saying I agree with Harvick. I’m not saying I’m going with him. I want all three of you guys to come across the line in a photo finish if I can’t be in front of you.”
“I’ll go with my childhood hero, Jeff Gordon,” says Busch.
Somebody said, “Awwww.”
“This is a total setup,” says Truex. “That’s all I’ve got.”
The longer they talked, the nicer they became. Perhaps this was Harvick at his most devious. Perhaps he was going to be nice and nicer and then – unnerve. Perhaps that was the total setup.
But it finally became evident. There would be no setup. Why?
“I think it’s his fault,” Harvick says, pointing to Gordon. “We’re going to blame it on him. It’s a little bit different, I think, just for the fact that I know we all want to win. We all want to have a championship.
“But in the end, you don’t want to be the guy that was disrespectful at Jeff Gordon’s last press conference.”
“God,” says Gordon. “I hope he’s thinking like that on Sunday, too.”
“It’s Thursday, Jeff, it’s Thursday,” says Harvick. “But I don’t know, yeah, I just don’t think it’s – I think there’s a lot of respect for where everybody is at, and I think when you look at Martin and everything that those guys have done with what they’ve gotten in Colorado, and here they are, and you look at Kyle breaking his leg and fighting back, and Jeff, who’s going to retire and run the last race, there’s really no reason to create a story.”
Harvick, Gordon, Busch and Truex are a compelling final four. That’s the story.