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Living Up to the Hype

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Stewart (left) and Edwards are shoulder-to-shoulder with two races left. Photo: NASCAR.com

Could we ask anything more from the Chase for the Sprint Cup!?

Well, Junior fans would probably say a race win, but aside from that, we're getting our money's worth this autumn!

Texas Motor Speedway spent all last week building up the Carl Edwards vs. Tony Stewart duel and the two competitors delivered the promise on Sunday.  Stewart dominated the race, but Edwards crossed the finish line right behind him for second.

The win helped Stewart close the eight point gap to three, but Edwards' relentlessness made it so "Smoke" couldn't pass him in the standings.  The result leaves the two neck-in-neck with two races to go.

Stewart has won a very impressive four wins in the Chase, while Edwards hasn't registered a win since the third race of the season.  However, it's Edwards consistency that has made him an elite driver all season.  "Cousin Carl" leads the field this season with 17 top-fives (half of the season's races) and 24 top-10s.

Many Stewart fans are scratching their head that their favorite driver could win half of the Chase races and still not lead the points.  Some are clamoring for more points for Chase victories, but it's worth remembering that few fans of the No. 14 were griping about wins when he didn't have any entering the Chase.  Heck, even Tony was sheepish about his position at that time; that's changed as his team has started putting him in a position to win each week and he's done the rest for them in dominating fashion.

While Stewart fans contemplate that dilemma, other fans still holding onto the traditional school of thought don't even support the Chase format!  Those fans should be perched high on top the Carl Edwards bandwagon, if they aren't already.  He'd more or less have this thing wrapped up if there wasn't any resetting at the Chase.

Let's all come together and agree on a few things, though.

What we saw last weekend in Texas was amazing.  Usually, with 43 cars on the track, the hype between just two of them is overblown.  That wasn't the case last week.  Both drivers came to the track intent on putting up great finishes and both did exactly that.  They even traded places on a few of the final restarts before Stewart pulled away for the win in the waning laps.

Furthermore, what we expect to see at Phoenix and Homestead is similarly exciting.  Perhaps it's because I grew up with the traditional "stick and ball" sports (as they describe them), but I love seeing the season come down to the final events.  This kind of close duel is what makes this sport fun.

Put it this way: would you prefer that Edwards and Stewart be separated by three points right now or would you prefer that Jimmie Johnson be up by about 75 points and well on his way to number six?

That's nothing against Jimmie.  I'll be the first to tell you that I thought his streak of five straight was a phenomenal run and something for which I didn't think enough fans gave him credit.  However, the idea that one of these two will dethrone "Five-Time," but that none of us have any idea which, gives us all a reason to tune in for the final two races.

Like Bruins fans last June, this is the reason we've paid attention all season!  We want this part of the year to be fun.  The excitement and anticipation is what guarantees you'll be paying attention to every pit stop and every lead change.

I also have to give a lot of credit to NASCAR for revamping the points system.  Whether or not that had any affect on the current situation can be debated.  Personally, I think it's more just a coincidence and that drivers were just as likely to be close or spread apart in either system.  However, they've made it so much easier for fans to understand, especially the casual ones that are trying to figure it out.

I know I've found it very easy to describe to my parents, who are slowly coming around on NASCAR.  It's so simple to tell them that you get 43 points on down to one, based on your finish, and then you get three points for a win, one for a lap led and one more for the most laps led; that's all!

It also makes it easy for all of us sitting on the couch that have long given up on doing long division or calculating for x in our heads.  It's simple addition and/or subtraction, so we can easily play along at home without waiting for ESPN to put up a graphic to tell us what's up.

Personally, I'm excited (in case you can't tell).

I had the chance to race Tony Stewart in go-karts at an NHMS event in late August and we welcomed him into Victory Lane a month later.  I admire Stewart's success as a team owner with his two cars making five of a total six Chase appearances since he gained ownership in 2009.  The addition of Danica Patrick for 2012 didn't hurt the team's reputation, either!  He's one of the most popular names in the sport and would serve as a prominent champion for NASCAR.

On the other hand, I tagged along lobstering with Carl Edwards shortly before the SYLVANIA 300.  He's very charismatic and participates regularly on ESPN, as well as appearing in mainstream ads for companies like Subway.  He was the driver that I first started to associate with when I began following the sport, thanks to his rise to prominence and his competitive attitude combined with his, well, cousin-like personality.  He has a pilot's license and lives in Missouri, as opposed to North Carolina like most drivers, and he seems to serve as an ambassador to the non-traditional fans that could help expand the sport's reach.

Either way, NASCAR is in a position to crown a very suitable new champion.

And us fans?  Well, we better put ourselves in a position on the couch because we're probably not going to know who that champion is until the race winner (probably one of these two) crosses the finish line at Homestead a week from Sunday.

Sit tight!  This is going to be fun.