Published November 05, 2011
| Associated Press
FORT WORTH, Texas – Cousin Carl vs. Smoke.
There is a tale of the tape and even lockers complete with boxing gloves and robes for both Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, the top contenders in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points chase. There is huge banner featuring boxing promoter Don King with Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage.
"I didn't realize Tony volunteered to do a boxing match," Edwards said, smiling after entering the media center between the lockers. "I'm actually pretty excited about that part, but I didn't know that was gonna actually happen."
OK, so this "Texas Title Fight" — as the race is being billed — will be on the track Sunday, and without the often volatile Kyle Busch.
Edwards got to Texas with a mere eight-point lead over Stewart, who last week won for the third time in seven Chase races and in Victory Lane said the points leader "better be worried. That's all I'm saying."
Stewart's feelings haven't changed since getting to Texas.
"It wasn't the adrenaline that was saying that. I've been racing 31 years and we've been a part of a lot of championship battles and I know what that feeling is when you feel that stuff is going right and that you've got that shot again," Stewart said. "He's making a mistake if he's counting us out and if he thinks it's just a mind game deal. ... I'm going to control my destiny and my car."
Busch, who was seventh in points, was barred from driving in the Cup and Nationwide races at Texas, a rare step taken by NASCAR after he deliberately wrecked championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. during a caution in the Truck Series race Friday night. Michael McDowell will take over Sunday in Joe Gibbs' No. 18 car.
Stewart, now a driver-owner, is the last person not named Jimmie Johnson to win a Cup championship. That was in 2005 when Stewart won his second title driving for Gibbs.
But no driver has won more Cup races at Texas than Edwards — "We couldn't be coming to a better race track," he said. Edwards swept both 2008 races and won the fall race there six years ago.
"We've escaped some of our bad tracks and bad days and still been able to fight and claw and come up with something good," Edwards said. "Now we're going to some tracks that we can run well, but I also understand how much can go wrong. I know things that can happen and it's not over until it's over."
Edwards finished third in the Nationwide race Saturday after leading 157 of 200 laps on the 1½-mile, high-banked Texas track. He finished behind Roush Fenway teammate Trevor Bayne and Denny Hamlin, who was driving Busch's Nationwide entry.
Stewart qualified fifth for Sunday's race, while Edwards was seventh, meaning the top two will start nose-to-tail Sunday.
The only Cup victory for Edwards this season came eight months ago in Las Vegas, but he has finished outside the top 10 only once in his last 10 races, and that was an 11th-place finish at Talladega. His two wins at Texas in 2008 were among his series-best nine victories that year without winning a championship — he was second in points behind Johnson.
Kevin Harvick, who won the Truck Series race Friday night in Texas, is third in Cup points, only 21 behind Edwards.
Johnson is sixth in points, 43 back, and knows he needs a lot of help the last three races for any chance to extend his championship streak. Still, he has a chance, as do Brad Keselowski and Kenseth.
"I don't think Tony is the only guy that can be a threat to us," Edwards said. "I think those other guys are gonna be just as tough, so what I was trying to describe was not focusing in on one guy, but looking at the big picture and with three races left, there are a lot of guys you have to worry about."
After Texas, the resurfaced and reconfigured Phoenix track is next week before the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ryan Newman expects an exciting finish with four different teams in the top four spots in the Cup standings.
Thanks to his car owner, Stewart, there is that added zest to racing at Texas because of those comments after winning at Martinsville.
"It's not unlike him. Usually he's all excited about getting a new clock or something like that but he was really gung-ho about giving a good speech afterward," Newman said. "I was proud of him for that. He made a point and then he's shown that in this Chase winning three out of seven, he's a force to be reckoned with so these next three are going to be interesting for all of us."