CHARLOTTE, N.C. - If Carl Edwards fails to win the Sprint Cup title this year, he will likely always blame a six-day tailspin of trading paint, insults and shoves.
It culminated Saturday night when his 33rd-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway dropped him from second to fourth in the standings, a distant 168 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson with five races to go.
"I can guarantee you that if I had the week to do over again, the last seven days would be a lot different," said Edwards, a Columbia native.
It all started with a 12-car wreck at Talladega that opened up Edwards to severe criticism from rival Kevin Harvick.
Upset with Harvick's attack, Edwards left him a sarcastic note at his airplane, then confronted him in the garage at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Photographs show Edwards grabbed Harvick by the neck before Harvick shoved him onto the hood of his car.
After all that excitement, Edwards had little to say the rest of the week.
"It seems the more I do or say this week, the worse off I am, so I just wanted to get to the end of the race," he said Saturday night. "I've never been so excited to race at Martinsville in my life."
A new location, however, doesn't mean the topic of conversation will change.
No other sport is quite like NASCAR, with a grueling 38-weekend schedule that forces its drivers, crew chiefs and owners to live inches apart three nights a week in motor homes. In that tiny mobile racing community, everyone knows everybody and everything that's going on - even if there weren't photos of the two tussling in the garage.
It's been a good long while since NASCAR had a drama this good play out so publicly. Sure, you still hear whispers that Driver A spun Driver B in a spat over a girl, or so-and-so punched so-and-so when at the airport after a race in which they'd tangled. But this, complete with the five photographs, has everyone abuzz.
It doesn't help Edwards that his spat is with a driver who loves being the center of a storm. If Edwards is the Eddie Haskell of NASCAR (as Tony Stewart once called him) then Harvick is the Bart Simpson.
Harvick has battled with Ricky Rudd, Greg Biffle, both Busch brothers, Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR and anyone else who gets in his way. He's not shy to voice an opinion on other people's business, never minces words, doesn't back down from a fight and loves every minute of it.
Not convinced? The smirk on his face Friday, when he shared his version of the garage incident, said it all. And he was quick to point out he didn't care what Edwards has on the line.
Was he trying to get in Edwards' head through the entire episode? "That's not that hard to do," he said with a smile.
Harvick doesn't really care what people think about him, and that confidence has helped him rebound from every tussle over the past eight seasons.
Edwards might be better off taking a similar approach.
This time last year he threw a fake punch at teammate Matt Kenseth that was caught on videotape and ended up on YouTube. Although several rival drivers took their shots at him the next weekend, the criticism faded and Edwards moved on.
It won't be as easy this time around.
Edwards accepted full responsibility for the Talladega wreck and apologized for taking out several championship contenders. But he couldn't quite shake Harvick disrespecting him on national TV, which turned into a garage-area altercation. Then that 33rd-place finish capped off a horrible week.
He'll argue it was an ignition problem that derailed his race, but his body language all weekend indicated he'd already been defeated.
But just because Edwards said he'd do things differently, it doesn't mean he did them wrong.
Drivers race each other on the track and in the court of public opinion. Then they pack up, move to the next city, and do it all over again.
Only next time, it might not be so public.