Pedley: The Chase Worm Appears to Have Turned
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The Second Day Lede
With the shadows of the Sierra Estrella mountain range lengthening, and his race lead stabilized late Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, Tony Stewart appeared to be just 100 laps away from kicking Carl Edwards’ championship legs cleanly out from under him.
A car that looked unbeatable, a driver who looked unstoppable, another driver who looked unsalvageable and momentum that looked invaluable all reversed course.
And 100 laps later it was, after nine races of what appeared to be dissipating championship hopes, Edwards who would head to the 2011 Sprint Cup season finale in South Florida with the wind at his back.
Kasey Kahne won Sunday’s race at PIR and a nicely crafted victory it was.
But the focus of the racing world was on the two drivers who finished immediately behind him.
A victory by Stewart, who started the day three points behind Edwards in the playoff standings, would have been his fifth in the Chase. It would have given him the points lead and it would given him big
ammunition in the psychological warfare he has been waging against Edwards the last nine weeks.
But on the final pit stop of the day at PIR, it was Edwards’ and his Roush Fenway Racing that made the right moves.
Edwards was only able to hold steady with that three-point lead with his second-place finish because third-place Stewart collected the bonus for most laps led.
But the final leaderboard signaled what could be a pretty significant shift in the tone and shape of the 2011 Chase.
It’s Edwards who is now wearing the look of a winner.
Heck yes the three points are big in the new scoring format. But not as big as a couple other factors.
Momentum now favors Edwards. He took a Steward roundhouse and didn’t flinch. Behind Stewart most of the day, Edwards stayed cool and focused. And he stayed smart. Near the end of the race, he didn’t press then-leader Kurt Busch when Busch refused to let him past, even though it was Edwards in the faster car, with fresher tires and in contention for the championship.
And history now favors Edwards. Homestead-Miami Speedway is an Edwards track. He has won two of the last three races there. It is a Ford track as Fords have won seven of the 12 races held there; the only other car maker to win more than one race at Homestead is Pontiac and it no longer races in Cup.
And the track is a Roush Fenway track as six of the last seven winners in Homestead have been driving Jack’s cars.
Yep, there is only one thing that can keep Edwards from beating out Stewart for this year’s Chase championship: Racing.
The weekend in Avondale provided this year’s Chase with something that’s way too hard to find in
NASCAR these days: Warmth.
Kasey Kahne’s victory and Victory Lane celebration was jam-packed with Saturday night short-track emotion.
Kahne is one of those drivers who is near-impossible to dislike. By fans, and by his team members and especially by his peers. His Victory Lane tears were contagious. Very cool that that team – headed for who knows where after the season ends – got to drink from the cup late this season.
And what a late season it was for them. Had they been in the Chase, they would have been in the chase.
You’ve got to feel good for team principal Jay Frye as well. He’s a racer who deserves so much more than what a succession of squirrelly team owners have dealt him.
If a deal is not reached to keep the team in tact next season, Frye would make an existing team a consistent winner as a GM. (I’m looking at you, Stewart-Haas.)
Even warmer was Saturday’s Nationwide finish. Sam Hornish Jr., another of racing’s good folk, got his first victory.
Those in the NASCAR media got to see what those of us who have covered Hornish in IndyCar have seen for years after Saturday’s race: Grace and class.
Finally, the likable young lawn-mowing neighbor from Defiance, Ohio will have a NASCAR trophy to put up on the mantle next to the bowling trophies. Oh, and the IndyCar championship trophies and the baby Borg-Warner Trophy.
NASCAR officials have said that they really can’t define what stepping over the line in the era of have at it is, but that they would know when they see it.
Wonder what they saw when Brian Vickers slammed Matt Kenseth into the wall at PIR on Sunday?
Some of us saw an incident very similar to that involving Kyle Busch vs. Ron Hornaday Jr.
The one during the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas a week ago. The one where Busch shoved championship contender Hornaday into the wall by way of extended bumper contract. The one which resulted in Busch being parked for the Nationwide and Cup races at Texas.
The one which was more a passion-of-the-moment crime rather than one which had month-long pre-meditation.
Anything less than a parking of Vickers for next weekend’s racing in Homestead-Miami will show NASCAR officials to have embarrassingly selective vision.
That said, I hope they don’t.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment