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Sturbin: Stewart Is Only Worried About Stewart

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 7 2011

Tony Stewart crossed the finish line first for the fourth time in eight Chase races on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

FORT WORTH, Texas – On his way down pit road to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday evening, Tony Stewart rolled to a halt at the sight of Carl Edwards. NASCAR’s championship protagonists briefly exchanged smiles and words before tapping hands in a sign of mutual respect.

“I just told him, ‘Good job,’ ” Edwards said after Stewart had posted his fourth victory in eight Chase for the Sprint Cup starts. “Those guys stepped it up, and I’m proud of my guys for hanging on and for still having the points lead. We’re going to the final two races. It looks like it’s truly gonna come down to Tony and I, and that’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Billed and promoted like a heavyweight title fight, the AAA Texas 500 exceeded the hype. Stewart’s second consecutive victory shaved another five markers off Edwards’ tenuous eight-point pre-race advantage. Edwards will take a 2,316-2,313 lead into the reconfigured 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval next weekend for the Chase’s penultimate round. Edwards, who moved into P1 after Chase Race No. 4 at Kansas Speedway, has nursed a lead that has ranged from one to 14 points.

But after whooping-it-up, Texas-style, in Victory Lane with a black Stetson cowboy hat and pair of pistols, Stewart made his intentions clear for PIR and the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I’m not worried about anybody,” Stewart declared in the Samsung Mobile Infield Media Center post-race. “I’m worried about what we’re doing, and that’s it. I mean, make no mistakes – understand this

Tony Stewart and his team are focused only on themselves. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

when you leave here – for the next two weeks, I don’t care what he does. I didn’t care what he did last week. I didn’t care what he did this week. I was worried about the No. 14 car and that’s all. That’s why we had the result we had today. We’re not worrying about somebody else or something else.”

Stewart can be excused for puffing out his chest after spending most of the day on-point in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing. Cup champion in 2002 and 2005, Stewart led seven times for a race-high 173 of 334 laps around TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. Edwards, in contrast, led three times for 14 laps – but still exited Texas as the man in command.

“I guess the best way to sum it up is I feel more comfortable right now in this points battle than in any other points battle I can remember,” said Edwards, who is pursuing his first Cup championship. “I feel like we only have to worry about one other guy. We still have the advantage in points. I’ve raced Tony long enough. I feel comfortable with him. He’s not gonna surprise me with anything, and I’m grateful for all that experience. I hope I can turn that into a championship.”

That ranked as perhaps the boldest statement made all weekend by “Cousin Carl,” who consistently downplayed the Don King-inspired hype generated by Eddie Gossage, TMS’ president/promoter.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have led the points for as long as we have this season,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. “I think the guys, I know myself, have a certain comfort level with it. We’ve watched guys make runs at us and fall away, and make runs and fall away. At the end of the day, it truly doesn’t matter what the No. 14 team does or what Tony does or what anyone else does. All we can do is just do the best that we can do.

“It might feel comfortable to them to be in the position they’re in – to be gaining points – but truly, the past is history. We’ve got to go out and run these next two races and yeah, I don’t underestimate them for a second. I know how good they are, but we’re gonna be good as well.”

Stewart was involved in the day’s 23rd and final lead change when Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff

Carl Edwards' car is pushed out to pit lane early in the weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Has the Chase become a two-car affair? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

Burton – gambling on a late caution to win via fuel strategy – was forced to pit under green on Lap 329. That moved Stewart into the lead, followed by Edwards, surprisingly strong Kasey Kahne and Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

That scenario was set up during green flag pit stops made by race-leader Stewart and Edwards on Lap 301 for four tires and fuel. Stewart’s crew got him out first, and that track position held to the checkered.

“That was really the difference,” Stewart said, “was just being able to get that track position and be able to run our pace versus trying to make something happen to catch him.

“I mean, I still stand firm that we’re not counting on them to make mistakes. We’re controlling our destiny. We raced our race today. That’s what we intend to do the next two weeks. It’s theirs to lose now. We’re going to take it if we want it. We took five points off that deficit today. We have that ability to do that the next two weeks.

“The good thing is we’ve been in this position a lot of times. What do we have to lose? We don’t have anything to lose. I don’t care about second or third in the points. After you’ve won it, second doesn’t really matter.”

Asked if he had anything in particular to tell Edwards heading to PIR and South Florida, Stewart said: “I don’t think we have to say anything. I think our performance today spoke for itself. He knows already, trust me.”

Edwards reiterated that “Smoke” was not going to draw him into a jawing match. “I don’t plan on it,” Edwards said. “I go out and compete as hard as I can and it is fun to joke around a little bit. But any extra energy I spend thinking about other stuff or worrying about other things is not spent in the right place.

“I’m focusing on what I’m doing and it would be really fun to be standing up there the last one on stage at the (NASCAR Awards) banquet – and I might have a couple of jokes then. That would be a good time for them. But I learned early in life that you’ve got to be careful about throwing the jabs out there, because somebody might get you.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 7 2011
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