Chase gaining exciting momentum

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

LONG POND, Pa. – Last year, the chase for NASCAR's championship turned into a total yawner, played out between two teammates who not only really, really like each other, but who were a whole lot better than everyone else.

There were no challengers for Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon in 2007, which is why interest waned as the season reached its crescendo.

That's not going to happen this year.

No, this Chase for the Sprint Cup is setting up to be a three-way battle between Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards – three completely different personalities from three different teams.

We already know about Busch, his seven wins, all the predictions of future greatness and his villain act.

And we know about Johnson, his back-to-back titles, his seemingly perfect life and his continued quest to become just the second driver ever to win three championships in a row.

Following Sunday's win in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, we can put Edwards in that mix, too.

"He wasn't ready to win a championship, I think, until this year," Edwards' boss Jack Roush said Sunday. "I think this year he can go head-to-head with Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, with anybody else that's there. And I think he can close the deal."

As Roush explained, championships are ultimately determined by how well you do when things go bad.

"Do you go on and self destruct, or do you mange to be in a frame of mind where you can go on and get the most out of it?" Roush asked, hypothetically.

This is exactly the situation Edwards found himself in when rain red flagged Sunday's race with 67 laps to go.

Just before NASCAR halted things, Edwards, who was leading the race at the time, and his crew chief Bob Osborne had to make a tough decision. They could opt to pit then, which would put them in a better position to win the race once it re-started. But if the rain persisted and NASCAR called the race, they would essentially have gift wrapped a victory for someone else.

Over the radio, the two argued about what to do. Eventually, Osborne told Edwards to pit. Moments later, NASCAR red flagged the race.

Sitting on pit road, watching the rain fall harder and harder, Edwards' frustration with Osborne's decision boiled over. He'd just handed away a victory.

"I had to leave the pit box because I was worried Bob was going to punch me in the neck or something," Edwards said.

Then the rain stopped, the sun came out and Edwards, needing only one more pit stop the rest of the way thanks to Osborne's call, cruised to victory.

"It's not out of the ordinary for us to argue," Osborne explained. "We argue, we get mad, we walk away.

"But, you know, through the arguments and through the discussions and through the handshakes and the hugs, we come to terms with what we want to do and when we want to do it. Ninety-nine percent of the time it works out."

Roush may have been off-base in his assessment of Edwards' capability of winning a championship. He did, after all, finish just 35 points behind Stewart in the 2005 Chase, which just so happened to be Edwards' first full season in Cup racing.

But Edwards says he's a better driver now than he's ever been; that he's learned from his successes and his failures.

This, in part, is what's going to make this Chase good.

Busch may be a year or two ahead of the championship schedule prognosticators like me predicted, but it's clear he's ready. The fact that he's so polarizing only makes things more interesting.

Johnson's quest for history – only Cale Yarborough has ever won three straight titles – makes his story one to follow, even if he runs away with things. We all like to see history made, don't we? If it doesn't happen this season, it can't again for at least two more years, and who wants to wait for that?

And Edwards, he may be the wild card in the mix. He doesn't have the championship mentality to fall back on, like Johnson, and he doesn't have the cocky swagger to will himself to victory lane, like Busch.

What he does have is a quiet confidence in himself, which he demonstrates every time he wins by doing a back flip off the side of his car with nothing to break his fall other than a cement racetrack.

And he sticks the landing every time.

Yeah, this time around, the show is going to be a whole lot better.

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