FORT WORTH, Texas — Carl Edwards may still be on top of the Sprint Cup points standings, but man, it doesn't feel that way, does it?
Despite Edwards' second-place finish, he was once again overshadowed by Tony Stewart, who dominated the second half of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway to win his fourth Chase race.
Because he finished second, Edwards is still three points up in the standings. And now this Chase suddenly has the feeling of a team having the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the ninth trailing 3-2.
Yes, Edwards still has the lead and a seemingly unbeatable closer (Phoenix and Homestead-Miami are two of his best tracks), yet he's facing a bases-loaded situation with Tony Stewart coming to the plate. Who do you think has the upper hand?
"I think we're fortunate to have led the points for as long as we did this season and I think the guys, I know myself, we have a certain comfort level with it," Edwards said. "At the end of the day it truly doesn't matter what that 14 team does, what Tony does, or what anyone else does. All we can do is just go do the best we can do and it might feel comfortable to them to be in the position they're in to have been gaining points, but truly, the past is history. We've got to go out and run these next two races and yeah, I don't underestimate them for a second. I know how good they are. But we're going to be good as well."
But what Stewart is doing is defying all pre-Chase logic. Winless entering NASCAR's playoffs, he's now won half of the eight Chase races. And with two races to go, this run by Stewart may not have time to fall away, setting up a potentially epic two-man race to the championship.
"I don't care about second or third in the points," said Stewart, who's going for his third championship. "After you've won it, second doesn't really matter. To me, it's about going out and getting that championship and doing everything you can to accomplish that goal and we're not a group that's going to sit here obviously and say we're going to take the easy road and settle for second. I'd rather finish sixth or seventh in points knowing that we did everything we can to win."
In the week leading up to Sunday's race, TMS president Eddie Gossage cooked up billboards and banners like a promoter would for a prizefight between two championship boxers. Gossage went so far as to install boxing lockers for each driver in the media center.
In a way, it was somewhat of a risky gamble, as there was a chance that only one or neither would be in contention for the race victory. But boy, did it pay off. Stewart and Edwards qualified just two positions apart from each other, and never fell out of the top 10.
Edwards got Stewart on a restart on Lap 267, but eight laps later Stewart got a better bite as the green flag flew, taking the lead for the seventh time on the ultimate race-winning pass.
"It shows what this Chase is going to be about," he said. "It's a good battle right now. I mean, this was a good race today. We never really got far away from each other. At the end it was down to the two of us.
"I don't know if you're Brian France right now, I would say he's giddy. If not, he should be, because this is the perfect scenario. It's the perfect storm, so to speak, going into these last two weeks. That's what you want. This is about as exciting as it gets, to have two guys that are down to three points with two weeks to go."