By Jerry Bonkowski
Trash talking can be a very melancholy game.
Sometimes, you intimidate your opponent – much like Tony Stewart did with Carl Edwards prior to the season-ending and championship-deciding Chase race at Homestead in 2011.
Other times, your words come back to bite you like a grizzly bear.
Such is the case with defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, whose bid for a second consecutive championship got off to a horrible start Sunday in the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway.
Just a few days before the race, Harvick talked smack, promising to pound the collective four Joe Gibbs Racing Chase entries “into the ground.”
Unfortunately for Harvick, the only pounding that happened at Chicago was to his ego, pride and particularly his championship chances.
Harvick and Jimmie Johnson got together when Johnson appeared to lose control coming off the apron of the race track and twice bounced off Harvick’s car.
Harvick got the worst of the contact, as the left fender on his No. 4 Chevrolet was bent inward and began to rub against the tire.
But instead of immediately calling Harvick into the pits to change tires and repair the fender damage, which likely would have minimized the severity of the contact with Johnson from a points perspective, Childers kept Harvick on the racetrack.
In a situation like that, with severe tire rub, there’s usually only two outcomes: the boom of an exploding tire and then another boom upon hitting the wall.
Three laps later, that’s just what happened. The tire blew, sending Harvick into a spin and then backed hard into the wall, causing significant damage.
End result, a 42nd place finish and a significant mountain to climb heading into New Hampshire this weekend.
Harvick goes into Loudon 43 points back – the same amount of points awarded for a race win. Even if he wins at Loudon, Harvick is likely to still have even more ground to make up the following week at Dover to stave off elimination.
How could anyone have seen this coming? Harvick appeared almost a lock to win it all nine weeks from now.
Which takes me back to my point about Childers and Harvick making a huge mistake after the initial contact:
Why didn’t Childers just order Harvick in?
When you’re in the first race of the Chase, you have a little wiggle room with strategy. If something is broke, fix it. Nothing says you have to continue on after making contact.
Rather, the more prudent and safer route would be to come into the pits for service.
Even if in the long run, you wind up losing the race and a few points along the way, the worst Harvick likely would have finished would maybe have been 15th or 20th – certainly not next-to-last.
Being 15 or 20 points out of first place is a heck of a lot better than being a whole race’s worth of points out of the lead.
Could it be that Childers and Harvick were overconfident? After last season, and particularly with the way this season has gone thus far, they appeared almost bulletproof.
But anyone can be vulnerable to bad luck, even Harvick. And now he finds himself in a situation where he’s not only so far out of first, he’s also 16 points behind his closest rival, 15th ranked Clint Bowyer.
It’s hard not to draw a conclusion that Childers and Harvick blew it Sunday. To me, you only take that kind of chance at Homestead – or if you have a big enough points lead that taking such a gamble won’t hurt all that much.
Sunday was neither.
Hopefully they’ll remember Chicago and not let the same mistake happen again, lest Harvick ultimately – and potentially quite quickly – finds himself going from last year’s hero to this year’s zero.
Jerry Bonkowski writes for NBCSports.com’s NASCAR Talk. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.