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2 rounds left in Cup Chase after Stewart wins 'Texas Title Fight' to close gap to 3 on Edwards
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) ' When Tony Stewart stood up after his postrace interview, a full-length boxing robe was draped over his shoulders.
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage then put his hands on the race winner's shoulders and bounced along behind Stewart out of the room.
While the "Texas Title Fight" fully lived up to its billing with the top two contenders finishing 1-2 and Carl Edwards having his points lead trimmed to three, there are still two rounds left in what has become quite a fight for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
"Definitely, we wanted to beat Tony and pad that lead a little bit," Edwards said. "At the end of the day, we can walk out of here with our heads up. We're still the points leader. ... It's going to be a great battle."
But Stewart has plenty of momentum on his side after racing to his second consecutive victory, and winning for the fourth time in eight Chase races. He led 173 of 334 laps and winning the fastest of 22 Cup races at Texas (152.705 mph).
"Tony raced me harder than he's ever raced me," said Kasey Kahne, who finished third.
No need for any more verbal jabs by Stewart, who after winning at Martinsville a week earlier said Edwards "better be worried" the last three weeks of the season.
"I'm pretty sure what we did on the race track said everything we needed to tell him today. I don't know how you top that," Stewart said. "The funny thing, I don't feel like I have to say anything. I feel like I've already got it done."
The Chase goes next week to Phoenix, where the track has been reconfigured and resurfaced since Stewart was seventh and Edwards 28th there in February in the second race this season, and then to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the finale. Edwards won both of those races at the end of last season.
Edwards is the points leader for the fifth week in a row, and the Roush Fenway driver has been in the No. 1 spot after 20 of 34 races.
"We're very fortunate to have led the points for as long as we have. ... I have a certain comfort level with it. We've watched the guys make runs and fall away," Edwards said. "I don't underestimate (Stewart) for a second. I know how good they are. But we're going to be good as well."
Edwards' only win this season came eight months ago at Las Vegas, where Stewart was the runner-up. But Edwards has 17 top-five finishes, and his lowest in the chase was 11th at Talladega.
Stewart didn't even have a win this season before opening the 10-race Chase with victories at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. Before now doing it twice in less than two months, Stewart hadn't won consecutive races since July 2007.
His focus is set on winning a third Cup championship, and becoming the first person not named Jimmie Johnson to win the title since 2005 ' when Stewart won while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing before becoming a driver-owner.
"I still stand firm that we're not counting on (Edwards) to make mistakes," Stewart said. "We're controlling our destiny. Today is a perfect example of that. We're worried about what we're doing. ... It's theirs to lose now. But I don't know if they have a choice now."
With the win at Texas, where Edwards is the only three-time Cup winner, Stewart cut the points margin from eight to three.
While really down to Edwards vs. Stewart, only three of 12 drivers who made the Chase have been mathematically eliminated from contention. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman, who drives a car owned by Stewart, were knocked out Sunday.
Busch had to watch his No. 18 Toyota going around the track from atop the pit box. He was parked by NASCAR ' a rarely used penalty he couldn't appeal ' for the Cup and Nationwide races after deliberating wrecking championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck Series race Friday night at the track. Busch issued an apology Saturday night and said he understood why he was penalized.
Michael McDowell drove the Joe Gibbs-owned car and finished 33rd, three laps behind the leaders.
Five-time champion Johnson moved closer to the end of his unprecedented championship run when he finished 14th. He remained sixth in points, 55 back.
Stewart and Edwards were greeted at Texas with lockers complete with boxing gloves and robes, a tale of the tape and banners declaring a "Texas Title Fight" matching Cousin Carl vs. Smoke. Another banner hung near Victory lane featuring boxing promoter Don King and Gossage.
They were in close vicinity of each other throughout the race after starting nose-to-tail. Stewart qualified fifth and Edwards seventh.
After 85 laps, before the second round of green-flag pit stops before any cautions, Matt Kenseth was leading with Edwards and Stewart running 2-3, though there was a 4-second gap between them.
After 200 laps, when Stewart was leading and Edwards was running sixth ' the farthest they were separated all day ' they were even in points.
Stewart went in front of Edwards to stay on a restart with 60 laps to go after the second caution in a matter of laps, shooting by him out of Turn 2 onto the backstretch. On the caution before that, Edwards had taken the lead out of the pits.
The last lead change of the race came with five laps left when Jeff Burton, trying to match Edwards as a three-time Cup winner at Texas, ran out of fuel. Burton had been the only car not to make a late stop, and was trying to stretch his last tank to the end.