The battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards will be the standard on which all Sprint Cup championship battles will be judged from here on out. And if that's not enough by itself, Stewart's five Chase wins, the most by any Championship winning driver, is also a new benchmark.
And Stewart has another benchmark too. In his first Chase win in 2005, he won the title without winning a single Chase race -- the only driver to do that too. (Note: that's probably why he was so dismissive of any questions about a specific Chase-winning formula on Friday.)
What does this mean? Well it means that Stewart will win 10 races when he wins his third Chase, but that won't happen until 2017. So sorry Tony, you'll have to wait a while.
Honestly, Stewart winning the Chase this year may be as much of a surprise as it was last year. After starting off strongly with wins at Las Vegas and Fontana, Stewart, who (obligatory comment about how awesome he usually is in the summer), has finished outside the top 10 in six of the last 10 races leading up to the Chase. Yeah, he does have one win in that stretch (Daytona), but last year heading into the Chase, he had five top 10s in the final 10 regular season races.
Best Chase Track: That's Chicago, site of tomorrow's Geico 400. Stewart has three wins and 9 top 10s in 11 starts there. Pretty good.
Worst Chase Track: By average finish, it's Talladega, but doesn't it seem that Talladega is low on the list for everyon? It's that whole lottery thing. Stewart's second worst average finish at a Chase track is at Charlotte, where he has one win and 12 top 10s in 27 starts.
NB's Prediction: 4th. Stewart gets the benefit of the doubt here because of his performance last year. This is the ultimate in toss-up scenarios for Smoke. Given last year, it's not surprising if he's in the battle for the title until the final race. Given the last 10 races, it's equally not as surprising if he's not.