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CUP: Head Games Going On/Notebook

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BRAIN DRAIN — Make no mistake about it, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are playing the oldest game in the book this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway: Trying to get into each other’s heads and disrupt their championship rivals. All three professed to be loose and relaxed themselves, while saying the other two have cause to be worried.

Harvick said Hamlin has to worry about mechanical issues this weekend: “The 11 (Hamlin), obviously, has had more mechanical problems than either of us, several times during the season,” Harvick said of himself and Johnson. “So, I think that’s a realistic scenario. Anything can happen at any given moment in this sport, and that’s the great part about it. You can have mechanical issues, you can have wrecks, penalties, you can lose your mind, you can do all kinds of things. It’s just going to be fun to see it unfold. ... There’s no telling what’s going to happen. We may all run good enough to run in the top five and win the race, but there’s a lot going on.”

Johnson has said repeatedly in recent weeks that all the pressure is on Hamlin, who leads Johnson by 15 points and Harvick by 46 going into Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead.

Asked how he slept last night, Johnson said, “I slept great. I don't know if Denny did, but I know I did. Last night was awesome. I got a lot of sleep and feel good for today.”

Hamlin was quick to retort, however. “Frankly, since this is my last press conference and all, for the year, I’ll say if he (Johnson) keeps bringing up my name, he’s pretty much worried about me,” said Hamlin. “That’s all I’ll say. You’re not gonna say you’re not worried and you’re relaxed and everything, but keep bringing up my name.”

EDWARDS STILL FAST — A week after his stunning sweep at Phoenix International Raceway, Carl Edwards rolled off the truck lightning fast again. Edwards was fastest at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Friday’s only round of NASCAR Sprint Cup practice, and qualified on the outside of Row 1 for Sunday’s Ford 400. Not surprisingly, Edwards was all smiles on Friday.

“We’ve got a fast race car and it’s Ford Championship Weekend,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of exciting things going on and it’s exciting to have a fast race car. It’s been fun. Starting at Texas in the Nationwide car, winning that race was a big deal for us, and then to do what we did last weekend was huge. We just need to continue it this weekend and hopefully lock down fourth place in points. That would be a big accomplishment for us and we’ll just keep truckin.’”

WHO WILL BE DISAPPOINTED? — Jeff Burton said Friday that whoever doesn’t win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship will have a long winter to endure. “There’s only one guy going to win it,” said Burton, teammate to title contender Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing. “That means everybody else has to face the music, including the people that have already been eliminated. We had to face the music four or five weeks ago and we had our feelings hurt then. The two guys that don’t win it are going to be exceptionally disappointed. They are definitely going to have their feelings hurt.”

Yet Burton said the drama and emotion are good for the sport, if not necessarily for the individuals involved.

“That is what makes this sport fun to watch,” said Burton. “It’s what makes it fun to participate in. You don’t have the high emotion moments and emotions are good – there’s good emotions and bad emotions and if you don’t have that, why watch it and why participate in it? It’s why we’re all here, it’s why you all cover it, it’s why we do it, it’s why the fans watch it, it’s what sports are about. I’m a Duke fan and the people that watched the NCAA final game last year, it was a great game, but not everybody left there with a team they wanted to win, win. They still watched it because it was compelling and it’s what makes sports work.”

SIGN OF THE TIMES? — Foster Gillett, son of Richard Petty Motorsports majority owner George Gillett, reportedly was at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday, although he successfully ducked the media. It was the first time he’d been seen at the track since the Charlotte race a month ago.

Tiffany Breaux, RPM’s long-suffering director of communications, sent an e-mail out saying Friday was her last day with the team and she will go to work for Kevin Harvick Inc., starting Nov. 29.

Whether Sunday’s Ford 400 is RPM’s last race as a team remains one of the biggest unanswered questions heading into the NASCAR Sprint Cup offseason.

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.