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Tony Stewart wins for the fourth time in eight chase races...and chops Carl Edwards' lead to just three points

  Smokin' Hot! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Tony Stewart! He backed up his pre-race boasts with a dominant performance to beat Carl Edwards in a head-to-head battle in Sunday's Texas 500. And Stewart chopped Edwards' lead in the NASCAR championship chase to just three points with two races to go, Phoenix and Homestead.

   "Nobody listens to me when I talk….Do not count us out of this thing," Stewart said, clearly pumped up but yet noticeably exhausted at the end of the 3-1/2-hour race.
   Stewart, who hadn't won here since 2006, had the car to beat all day, and the win continues a hot streak he and crew chief Darian Grubb started Labor Day weekend, after such a ragged first seven months to the season.
    In fact the win was Stewart's fourth in the eight playoff chase races. Edwards is still winless in the chase. However Edwards still holds to a slim lead in the title run.
    Edwards went over to Stewart's car after the race to congratulate him.
    The two gained ground on all title challengers, who are now all but mathematically out of the hunt. Kevin Harvick is now 33 points down -- essentially a difference of 33 finishing positions; Matt Kenseth is 38 down; Brad Keselowski is 49 down; five-time champion Jimmie Johnson is 55 down.

    Tony Stewart, ahead of Carl Edwards at the finish line, in front of a Texas Motor Speedway crowd estimated by NASCAR at 151,000 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "He did a great job. Those guys really stepped it up," Edwards said. "I didn't expect him to run quite that well. Homestead could be quite something. So Phoenix, now, looks like it could have potential to be huge in the points.
   "They have had two very good weeks. From practice here I felt we'd have a little advantage…but they did their job very well.
   "To be three points ahead, and to put some ground on the guys in third and fourth….It truly looks like it's going to come down to Tony and me."
   "It looked like it was going to be a bad night in the points, maybe even disastrous. But we can walk out of here with our heads up. We're going to hold Tony to it – he's going to have to run like this these next two races to win it.
   "We haven't had a dominant car since Dover, and for us to finish the way we have without a dominant car says a lot about our team.
   "As frustrating as it is to see Tony win this race, I want to tell my guys 'We're still leading the points, and two races is a long time to go.'"
    The final 60 laps went green, and Stewart and Edwards were on the front row for the restart.
   "That last restart I felt if I could have gotten ahead of him, I could have done something," Edwards said. "He'd spun his tires the restart before that. But he got a good restart at the end."
   Stewart has been light-heartedly jabbing at Edwards since winning Martinsville a week ago to close the gap dramatically. "If I'm the guy up on the stage at Las Vegas (as the champion), then I might have a few jokes to offer," Edwards said. "But I learned early in life not to throw too many jabs, because you might get hit."
    Edwards' teammate Matt Kenseth, who dominated here in April, figured to be the pre-race favorite here. And Kenseth needed to make something big happen to get back in the title chase. But he didn't.
   This has long been a Jack Roush Ford track, and at one point early Roush men were running 1-2-3-4. But then Stewart began his charge.
   Kenseth wound up fourth and said "We were just off all day, from how we normally run here.
   "Unless Tony and Carl have a disaster at Phoenix, it's a two-man race."
    Edwards himself had an early scare, when crew chief Bob Osborne told him about excessive wear issues on his right-front tire.
   "That's not a good feeling, to be told after the first pit stop 'You've got to be easy on the right-front tire,' because I thought I was already being easy on the right-front," Edwards said. "I knew how much we had to lose if we blew a right-front.
   "I don't know if anyone else had any questions about the right-front, so I presume we were a little aggressive there."
   But Grubb said "Pretty much everyone had that problem, so you had to be careful. I'm sure Goodyear will come back with a little tougher tire. That is the limit of the tire."
   All in all, the 500 was rather clean. "There might have been a little more restraint on the part of the drivers, after what happened (with Kyle Busch's suspension after Friday's crash)," Edwards said. "But Phoenix will be the big test of all that."
    The fuel window here was about 53 laps at this 1-1/2-mile track, and with 60 to go on the final restart, there was the possibility of a gas mileage end game.
    And Jeff Burton and crew chief Luke Lambert decided to gamble. But they finally had to pit for gas with five to go.
    "I was never pulling so hard for Jeff Burton in my life," Edwards said with a laugh. A Burton win would have cost Stewart three points. "If I could have given Jeff a few gallons of gas I certainly would have."

    This is why they call him 'Smoke' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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