MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Four years ago on this track, Matt Kenseth almost got a punch in the face from Carl Edwards.
Today, he might give that punch back -- by cutting into Edwards' points lead in the Sprint for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, or maybe even taking the lead himself.
Kenseth enters the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in second place, 14 points behind his teammate -- and potential sparring partner -- Edwards.
They both say they've long since moved on from the postrace argument in October 2007, when Edwards gave Kenseth what appeared to be a playful push and then faked a punch.
And neither can seem to remember exactly what they were fighting about, except that it had to be something that happened on the track.
But nobody really forgets in NASCAR.
And with the Roush Fenway stablemates running 1-2 with four races remaining in the Chase, they're not likely to get a chance to forget it any time soon.
"First of all, I'm glad he just cocked it and didn't fire it because that would have hurt," Kenseth said, joking with reporters. "...I might still be laying out there somewhere."
Kenseth can afford to laugh a little. He's in high spirits after winning two weeks ago at Charlotte, getting out of Talladega with his championship hopes safe, and in the spring, recording one of his best performances on the Martinsville half-mile, where he -- like Edwards -- has usually had trouble.
He knows he has a shot at a second Sprint Cup championship. He won the 2003 title, the last before NASCAR debuted its "playoff" format, the Chase.
Now, he's having his most successful year since then. He has three victories [to Edwards' one], and his points position allows him to start on the front row with Edwards today.
"I know that we're in a fairly good spot right now, but yet I think we've got to outrun him every week," Kenseth said. "It seems like they've been able to get the finishes. Even on their bad days, they've been able to get all good finishes."
Edwards has been so steady in the Chase -- 4th, 8th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd, 11th -- that he has risen from fifth, where he started the "playoffs," to a 14-point lead, the largest for any leader in the Chase this year.
But he knows where Kenseth is, and he knows Kenseth had a good race here in April.
"The deal is, now I understand Matt and appreciate him as a teammate and friend," Edwards said. "I feel like he's one of the guys I'm closest to in the garage area, and if it could come down to me and him racing for the championship, that would be an honor for me. I think in motorsports, at any level, you're going to have problems and issues and arguments and people that you're frustrated with. But I think now, more than ever, we realize as drivers that we're all probably more alike than we are different and we're all working for the same things."
Still, Martinsville has a way of highlighting tension. Or causing it. Kenseth and Edwards both seem to have a better grasp on the paint-trading style of the short track, but both will be happy to head to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend for the AAA Texas 500, where they can run wide open on the 1 1/2-mile loop.
"Historically, that's been one of our best tracks, but past success doesn't guarantee anything for future success," said Kenseth, who has won twice at TMS, including the Samsung Mobile 500 in April. "Our stuff at those style of tracks seems to run pretty good this year."
Edwards and Kenseth might still be first and second in the points coming out of Martinsville. They might be first and second all the way to the final race in Miami.
Kenseth smiled at the thought.
"If it stays 1-2 through this stretch, there's going to be a big fight at Homestead," he said, joking, relaxed. Ready for a punch.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407