Edwards, Stewart should race for win

BY Jeff Hammond • November 17, 2011

On Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship comes down to two drivers — Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.

Stewart has been here before. He is a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. He’s won the big races, and he obviously knows what this is all about. This year, more than ever, Stewart has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be one of the top owners/drivers our sport has ever seen.

Edwards has never been to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup mountain. I did an interview with him a couple years ago, and he made it quite clear that this is a lifelong dream of his.

Back when I was interviewing him, he already had this master plan in his head of how he wanted things to play out. On the personal side of things he wanted to get married and start a family. On the professional side, he wanted to win a championship.

He has made that all happen — he's a married father of two with a Nationwide title to his credit — and now he is close to winning NASCAR’s ultimate prize.

If he doesn’t win the championship Sunday, I don’t think Edwards will be devastated, but I think it will slow him down a bit.

Both Edwards and Stewart obviously have the skill and mental toughness it takes to be champion. The pressure to perform Sunday is like no other, but I would say that applies even more for Edwards because he hasn’t cleared this last hurdle.

You’ve undoubtedly heard stories all week from the past about long sleepless nights as the day gets closer. The nightmarish scenarios the brain can come up with that snatches the championship from your grasp. You go over and over in your mind about the things you’ve done right, but then the thought process turns to what is the one thing you haven’t done right that will take you out.

Trust me, this is one of those “been there, done that” cases for me.

I was fortunate to win championships as a crew member and as a crew chief. Your “worry” factor almost becomes an obsession. I can only imagine what goes through a driver’s mind being this close to winning it all. I’ve been there with my driver when we reached the top, and I’ve been there with my driver when we have fallen short.

I have said it all season: I love the new points system. I mean, those three points that separate Stewart from Edwards are basically nothing.

The other part is this new system is easy to figure out. I don’t need my calculator. I think what we are witnessing right now is exactly what the creators of this new points system wanted to have happen. For everyone that is involved with the No. 99 team of Edwards and the No. 14 team of Stewart, plus their legions of fans, Sunday’s race is going to seem like the 24 Hours of Homestead.

Just like they have shown us these past few weeks, Edwards and Stewart are going to come at each other Sunday hot and heavy. Don’t think for a minute that those 41 other guys out there don’t realize that. They absolutely do not want to be a factor or reason Edwards bests Stewart, or vice versa.

This is not a race like at Talladega Superspeedway, where you have to have a dance partner or there are manufacturer orders.

This is Edwards vs. Stewart — one on one. Edwards is our points leader.

Stewart has to keep the pressure on like he has been doing. Tony Stewart is not going to let up. When that green flag drops Sunday at Homestead, everyone is going to get a chance to see if Edwards can handle the pressure.

This championship, literally, is too close to call. If I was forced to pick one, I believe I would give the nod to Tony Stewart. I don’t think he is going to change the way he has raced this entire Chase. He will lay it all out there because his mind-set really has been, and is, that he has everything to gain and not a thing to lose.

I hope they get side by side for most of the day. It is going to be so fun to watch. These guys are too skilled as drivers. They are too professional and have incredible car control. Sure, at the end of the day, they might have tire marks on the side of their cars from each other, but I don’t think you will see either guy taking a cheap shot at the other.

Again, I look for the rest of the field to be the same. They will let these two guys go at each other and put on one heck of a show.

That’s what I am hoping for.

I would be so disappointed and crushed if, after all this buildup, one of the guys lost a motor or blew a tire and was taken out of the picture that way. My ultimate dream would be Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, side by side, coming to the checkered flag in NASCAR’s closest finish in history. Now that would be cool.

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