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Williams: Chase’s On, As Stewart Issues Challenge

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 31 2011

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards could be headed toward an interesting finish to the 2011 Chase for the Cup. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Tony Stewart has partnered with tough championship battles throughout his storied racing career, so to hear him issue a challenge to NASCAR Sprint Cup point leader Carl Edwards after winning Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“He better be worried. That is all I have to say. He is not going to have an easy three weeks,” the jubilant Stewart said in victory lane immediately following his third victory since the 10-race championship Chase began at Chicago in September.

Edwards, who leads Stewart by a mere eight points with three races remaining, attributed Stewart’s remarks to adrenalin.

“He’s wound up. He won the race,” Edwards, who has yet to earn a NASCAR Cup title, said calmly. “We’ll see what happens at Texas.”

Stewart, who already owns two NASCAR Cup championships [2002, 2005] and an IndyCar Series title [1997], didn’t waver from his victory lane stand in the media center when told of Edwards’ remarks.

“My adrenaline has worn off and he better not sleep too long the next three weeks,” Stewart said after collecting his third Martinsville victory and 42nd of his career. “It’s no disrespect to him. He’s a great

Tony Stewart crosses the finish line to get the win at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

competitor. He’s a great guy. He’s with a great organization that deserves their shot at that championship, too.

“We’ve had one of those up-and-down years and we’re having a run in this Chase now where we’re hungry. I feel like our mindset into these next three weeks … we’ve been nice all year to a lot of guys, given guys a lot of breaks. We’re cashing tickets in these next three weeks.”

Stewart is the only driver to have won championships in stock cars, Indy Cars and open-wheel Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown cars. His two Cup titles made him one of just 15 drivers who have recorded multiple championships in that series.

Edwards owns a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, two NASCAR Whelen All-American Series titles at Capital Speedway near Jefferson City, Mo., and a Baby Grand Stock Car Association national championship. However, the prestigious Sprint Cup Series title has eluded him. The closest he has come to winning it was in 2008 when he finished second by 69 points to Jimmie Johnson.

Neither Edwards nor Stewart experienced an easy day at Martinsville. Edwards found himself a lap down twice and had to rely on a free pass each time to return him to the lead lap. His car was so bad with about 200 laps remaining in the half-mile track’s 500-lap event that he became “all right with the fact we were going to finish 20th or 25th.” Even though Edwards led twice for 28 laps, it wasn’t until the event’s closing stages that he cracked the top 10.

“We did not deserve to finish ninth,” Edwards said. “I’m proud of my guys for sticking with it. (Crew chief) Bob (Osborne) did a good job of keeping me calm.”

Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb found themselves battling an ill-handling car for most of the

Tony Stewart fans celebrate at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

race. Three times during the event Stewart found himself outside the top 20. He also had an intense battle with leader Denny Hamlin just to remain on the lead lap during the race’s only long green-flag run. Grubb, who grew up 22 miles from Martinsville, made changes to Stewart’s Chevrolet throughout the first 200 laps, but couldn’t get it to respond.

“He made some good changes the whole last half of the race that got us in the ballpark,” said Stewart, who led three times for 14 laps. “He had two awesome pit calls with pit strategy that got us track position.

“The first time I screwed up and gave it away, thinking I had a flat tire. Then at the end of the day, he got us that track position back with another great call. That is what truly gave us the shot to have that opportunity at the end of the day.”

Stewart, who was on the front row beside leader Johnson for the final restart with three laps remaining, pulled off an unconventional Martinsville move, passing him on the outside and taking the lead for good.

“When I was inside of Tony, I went down in the corner and thought that eight tires would be a lot better than four,” Johnson said. “I changed my mind. With where he is in the points, what’s going on, the fact we raced throughout the day today, he never touched me, I had a hard time doing that.”

Stewart said it came down to the respect he and Johnson have for one another on the track that allowed them to race each other clean for the final three laps.

“When you win a race today with the obstacles that we overcame, that’s what makes winning races like this so special,” Stewart said.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 31 2011
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