- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Please, somebody say something bad about somebody.
Give us some trash talk.
Throw a punch.
Something. Anything. Please.
They might as well have been sitting around a campfire, holding hands and singing "Kumbaya."
That Johnson and Edwards conducted this lovefest in front of some of the sport's all-time greats -- Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace to name a few -- drivers who made this sport what it is by their dislike of each other on and off the track, was almost nauseating.
"That's just wrong," said three-time champion Waltrip, who didn't earn
the nickname "Jaws" by being polite to competitors. "That's just all wrong. I don't know what's going on with that.
"It's OK to respect each other. Man, I don't know about that liking each other. I was struggling with that, especially when I was sitting by Bobby and Richard and everybody."
"Yeah, it didn't look like race car drivers that we grew up with," the seven-time champion said. "Me and Allison was sitting there fighting each other sitting still."
Wallace said he and Dale Earnhardt, who were friends off the track, never would have been so polite if they were battling for the title as they did a few times during their careers.
"What I heard today was a lot of everybody loves each other, a bunch of nice stuff, they respect each other," he said. "I was waiting on something a little bit edgy. I didn't get that."
The niceness began when Johnson and Edwards, separated by 141 points going into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:45 p.m. ET, ABC), walked into the room. Both went down the road of former champions, smiling and shaking hands as though they were political candidates from the same party.
When a member of NASCAR's public relations staff realized the championship trophy was blocking the view of the two contenders, Edwards was nice enough to move it.
Almost every time a question was asked Johnson and Edwards looked at each other and smiled, not wanting to seem as if they were trying to hog the spotlight.
"I know it would be more entertaining if Jimmie and I hated each other," Edwards said. "We don't. That's the thing. Let's get one thing straight, though. I want to beat him as much as anything in the world.
"If this all works out, it's only going to make it more enjoyable to beat him because of the competitor he is."
Even in that, Edwards was passing out compliments. So if you expect Edwards to take Johnson out in order to eliminate the widest gap the Chase has seen between first and second entering the final race, forget it.
"It would be tempting," Edwards said with a smile. "I don't think I would. He wouldn't do it to me."
But if he did, at least they wouldn't like each other so much if it came down to the two of them again.
"It would be ugly after that," Edwards admitted. "But Jimmie wouldn't do that to me. Nah, I couldn't do that."
We shouldn't be surprised. No two drivers in the garage worry about image and public perception more than these two. Of course they're going to like each other.
"It's good to have people that respect each other and teams that do, as well," Johnson said. "We get warped into reality television shows and perspective that you need to be in fistfights and all these different types of things. What's wrong with good competition and people that respect each other and teams that respect each other?
"You'll see it in pro sports, football games or baseball games, where guys are commending the other team on how prepared they are and how good a job they do. It works. I don't know why we have to be a circus act to make it a good show. Good competition and respect for one another should be plenty."
It can be when it's two teams or individuals on a court or field and only the winner takes home the trophy. There's drama there.
But when you can finish 36th no matter what your closest competitor does, as is the case with Johnson at Homestead, then there needs to be more.
Yeah, it didn't look like race car drivers that we grew up with. Me and Allison was sitting there fighting each other sitting still.
-- Richard Petty
You certainly wouldn't have seen Waltrip talking about how neat it is to hang out with Petty if he were in Edwards' position.
"We would have been probably a little bit more vocal about how we felt about each other," Waltrip said. "And it wouldn't have been that 'I really like you' kind of thing."
Unfortunately, Johnson and Edwards really do like each other. They have since the first time they met at a party in Daytona Beach before the start of Johnson's rookie season of 2002.
"I didn't know anybody there," said Edwards, who didn't get a Cup ride until the middle of 2004. "I didn't belong there. I don't know how I got invited. And here's this guy Jimmie Johnson that I guess was on the pole or something for the 500.
"Man, we just kind of sat there on the steps, and we didn't really have anybody else to talk to. I thought, 'Man, that's a cool guy.'"
His opinion hasn't changed now that Johnson is embarking on history.
"It's neat to see someone like that succeed," Edwards said. "To this day when we have a good run, Jimmie is one of the first people to come over and congratulate me, and when he has a good run, as much as it hurts us in the points sometimes or whatever, it's still good to see good people succeed.
"As long as we got this relationship the way it is and we get along and respect one another, I think it's a good thing, and I enjoy it."
It's not unusual for these two to text each other after a good race. Edwards stopped by Victory Lane to congratulate Johnson last weekend at Phoenix.
"I like getting along with everyone," Johnson said.
They did have a little fun with each other over the word "precipice" after emcee Mike Bagley said Johnson was on the precipice of winning a third straight title.
It all came to a funny head when NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter, after Edwards answered a question from a local high school student, said "if you stay in school you will know what the word precipice means."
"I guess I didn't focus in school," Johnson said.
Said Edwards, who knew what the word meant right away, "That El Cajon [Calif.] school district is the worst."
That's about as spicy as it got between the two. Edwards did admit he was hoping Johnson had the same engine problems that ended teammate Jeff Gordon's day last weekend at Phoenix. And Johnson did admit he was hoping Edwards would run out of gas when he won on fuel mileage at Texas the week before.
Otherwise, they were so polite it was like watching Miss Manners and Emily Post in a debate.
"If that's the way it is, that's cool," Wallace said. "But I was up there talking to Darrell Waltrip and he said, 'Man, c'mon. I want them to get wound up a little.'"
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two drivers have a chance to finish on top at Homestead on Sunday. David Newton wonders if Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have to be so darn nice about it.