In most sports, Game 7 is the pinnacle of competition. The winner-take-all, loser-goes-home-empty-handed crux that defines the thin line between glory and gut-wrenching disappointment.
Auto racing doesn't really have that. It doesn't have a sudden death goal, a buzzer beating shot or a game-winning field goal. At least, it doesn't usually have something like that. That's changed this year.
This weekend's race at Homestead will be Game 7 for the Sprint Cup Series. Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart will go head-to-head in an elimination round.
Picture this: With five laps to go, Brian Vickers wrecks Andy Lally to bring out a caution.
Why Lally? Let's be honest, he's one of the few drivers Vickers hasn't wrecked in the past few weeks, so you have to assume it's coming. But I digress; that's beside the point.
The picture I'm trying to paint is one where Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart have raced hard for 265 laps as they lineup in the front row, side-by-side for a green-white-checkered finish. If that scenario ensues, it will literally be the equivalent to an overtime finish. Who ever crosses the finish line first takes the championship!
In any given weekend, the difference between the first and second is a few bonus, a couple thousand dollars and significant bragging rights for the next year. This week, it's much more.
There's only one scenario where current points leader Edwards can guarantee the 2011 championship. He must win the race. If Edwards leads 266 of 267 laps and gets passed by Stewart coming out of turn 4 for the checkered flag, Stewart wins the championship.
Edwards might have a three-point lead, but, in the above scenario, Stewart would get 47 points and Edwards 44. By virtue of having four wins to Edwards' one, Stewart will win a tiebreaker if the two were to end up dead-locked, and Stewart can do no worse than tie if he wins the race. Thus, both drivers control their fate!
Sure, there are still 41 other cars on the track, 42 if you want to count Vickers as a double-wide wrecking ball, so maybe someone else will win. However, the two drivers have proven they both deserve to be here by putting together two great top-three finishes in the past two races.
Stewart has won four times in nine Chase races. While Edwards has yet to pick up a Chase W, he's finished in the top-five in six of the nine. There's no reason to believe the two won't be in top form and in front of the pack come the late stages of Homestead on Sunday afternoon.
If, and let's hope when, that happens, it'll be like the clock running down on Game 7. The two drivers will both have control of their own championship destiny. All they'll need to do is win!
This is it NASCAR fans. Our win-or-go-home, all-or-nothing, single elimination, Game 7-style final is here!
May the best competitor win.