- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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MIAMI BEACH -- Tony Stewart stared straight ahead with a smile on Thursday as Carl Edwards tried to return serve, explaining how the two-time champion has to worry about women and sponsors -- things Edwards doesn't have to worry about as a husband, father and the driver of a fully funded team for 2012.
The smile eventually turned into a laugh.
"I thought it was funny," Stewart said later from the Sprint Cup contenders' press conference on South Beach. "I don't go home to think about anything different. That's what I think about seven days a week. That race team is my family. It's good for him to have something to get away from [racing], but I don' t want to get away from it.
"My goal, my passion, is racing 24-7. I'm all right being a single guy without a family. He gets to think about one [woman]. I get to think about all of them, so it's a lot more fun."
Let the mind games begin.
Just to clarify, Stewart was asked directly if he worries about women, as Edwards suggested.
"I don't have to worry about them," said Stewart, who enters Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) three points behind Edwards. "If I don't want to be around them I can go home. He has to be with her whether he wants to be around her or not."
Round 1 of the weekend goes to Smoke.
What we saw is why Stewart is going to win a third title regardless of how superior Edwards' record is at Homestead. No, not because he's carefree and single. Stewart truly is more relaxed than his Roush Fenway Racing counterpart, as we saw with his reference to a media member looking like porn star Ron Jeremy, a reference believed to be a first at a NASCAR press conference.
Stewart truly has nothing to lose, since he came into this Chase as a longshot and because he already has two championship trophies at home. He's far less likely to make a mistake because of pressure.
Edwards tried to show strength and confidence that we didn't see in Denny Hamlin a year ago as he took a mind-game pounding from Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick about how all the pressure was on him.
But Edwards wasn't totally convincing.
Stewart certainly didn't buy into it.
"He's doing a pretty good job acting up there today," the 40-year-old Stewart said. "He's a lot more nervous than he lets on. He's got a lot of class and a lot of character. He's a strong person, but he's not as strong as he wants to lead everybody he is."
If Sunday's finale comes down to who cracks first, pencil Stewart's name on the trophy. He's a master at mind games, even though Edwards says he's not succumbing to that type of pressure.
Again, his body language says different.
And again, Stewart isn't buying it.
"You're lying if you say there's no pressure after being up there [leading the points] for 10 weeks and trying to win your first championship," Stewart said.
Pound, pound, pound.
Stewart never let up. He talked about how sponsor Office Depot served roast duck at a luncheon this week in honor of him beating Edwards, who is sponsored by Aflac (think TV commercials). He reminded us that if he finishes dead last Sunday he'll still be second in points. He reminded everybody that he already has two titles and Edwards has none.
"We can't lose anything," Stewart repeatedly said during the formal and informal parts of the press conference. "He can lose the points lead."
Edwards tried to throw that back at Stewart, reminding us that the 2002 and 2005 champion hasn't led in points this season. To which Stewart retaliated, "They say there's talkers and doers. I've done this twice."
For Edwards, this is a great competition. For Stewart, this is war. Stewart said he would "wreck my mom" to win the championship if it came down to both drivers going for the win on the final lap.
Every time Edwards tried to retort, Stewart was ready.
"You can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas when you come out there," he said of the Dec. 1 championship celebration in Las Vegas.
Stewart not only is at the top of his game on the track, finishing first, first and third the past three weeks, he's also on top of his track smack. Yet he does it in a way that doesn't sound like trash-talking as much as it does confidence, the kind he learned from childhood hero A.J. Foyt during his glory years, the way Darrell Waltrip did it when he was winning three straight titles.
"Foyt has how many championships and wins?" Stewart asked. "How many has Waltrip got? I think they [war of words] work."
Stewart is the Mike Tyson of this race. He would bite Edwards' ear off it would earn him the championship.
He said a few weeks ago that he had an advantage but refused to reveal it. We all saw it on this hot, muggy day in a big tent a few hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean.
His advantage is experience, knowing he has what it takes to win a title, whereas Edwards can only think he has what it takes. He reminded Edwards of that at every turn, down to calling the points leader back before he left the stage to pose for pictures with the trophy.
"I feel we have a better shot to win this than he does," Stewart deadpanned. "Honestly. I parked right beside him last week [at Phoenix]. I see what he looks like. I see what his guys look like and I see what our guys look like, and I know how I feel about it.
"It's two different demeanors in the garage right now. All you have to do is walk around the garage and watch them. I know what I see."
That Stewart never thought he'd be here 10 weeks ago, saying he would call himself an idiot if he wins the title, makes him all the more loose.
"We have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain," Stewart said. "That makes us a dangerous combination for the weekend."
He followed that with a smile, naturally.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.
Tony Stewart won the war of words with Carl Edwards in Miami on Thursday, showing the NASCAR media -- and the world -- why he'll be the one to beat at Homestead.