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Carl versus Tony: the final round, at Homestead, and the championship may come down to which man wins this 400

  Now that's a championship game face on Tony Stewart (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   What's a little trash-talking among buds….
   It's not normally the way NASCAR drivers play the game. But Tony Stewart is trying to use it as part of his championship mind-games with Carl Edwards.
   "I'd wreck my mom to win a championship. I'll wreck your mom to win a championship," Stewart says with a nod at Edwards.

   "I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship.
    "It's no-holds-barred this weekend.
    "I didn't come this far, to be one step away from it and let it slip away.
    "We're going to go for it.
     "They say there are talkers and doers. I've done this twice.
      "It's like Kid Rock said – 'It's not cocky if you back it up.'
     "We've been backing it up the last three weeks." 

   Edwards seemed a bit taken aback.

If backflips were the tie-breaker, Carl Edwards -- here in victory at Las Vegas back in the spring -- might have an edge over Mr. Whopper (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   "Did you say something?" Edwards was quick to retort.
    "He's got the talking part figured out.
    "The problem is I don't think you have led the points yet this year, have you?
    "I have listened to you a lot, and you talk a lot about your past successes. All joking aside -- that will make it more fun if we are able to beat you. It will make me more proud.
    "Truly all of that stuff is in fun. I know and he knows that it doesn't matter what we say.
    "It doesn't matter if we are over there fist-fighting in the corner before this things starts.
    "We are both good enough to go out there and do our jobs whether we love each other or hate each other.
    "But it is neat to go back and forth and give each other a hard time…."

    Stewart has been able to play the games just right so far.
   His line is simple. He's just three points behind Edwards.
   "We're not trying to overcome a big deficit. We're right there right behind him," Stewart says.
   The next part of it is also simple: "We can finish 43rd this weekend and not be any worse off than we are right now, so we don't have anything to lose.
   "We can throw everything we've got at it.
     "If we make a mistake doing it, it doesn't cost anything. There's no penalty for us screwing up.
     "With that does is take every ounce of pressure away. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose.
    "It's a dangerous combination, to put us in that kind of mode….because we've been hot lately. We've been running good, we're feeling good.
    "You couldn't ask for a better scenario."

    Wet weather at Homestead-Miami Speedway idled just about everyone Friday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    If that's meant to put pressure on Edwards, as in 'Is this championship Edwards' to lose?' maybe it will work, maybe it won't.     

    If the championship came right down to it, would Edwards really be willing to push Stewart out of the way to get it?
    "Now that I know how he feels about it, I guess that's pretty easy for me to decide," Edwards said with a laugh.
    "It is a national championship….This is a huge deal…This is a big race."
   "Let me put it this way -- I would only do it if I thought the other guy would do it to me," Edwards said, somewhat enigmatically.

   One potential issue: Team Orders.
   Stewart complained about Ford's apparent Team Orders at Talladega a few weeks ago.
   Is Stewart worried about that here too?
   Or, considering all the Chevrolets in the field…..
   "I don't want it to come down to that," Stewart says. "I feel we can beat him heads up.
    "We've raced for this position heads up, and I think that's the way it should end.
     "It shouldn't be about Team Orders."
   "We saw a hint of it last week," Stewart said, pointing to Edwards' teammate Greg Biffle picking the pit just ahead of Stewart, which could have created some tight pit stops. 
   "We never had an issue with it," Stewart said. "But you know that that can happen.
   "We're racing for a national championship, so we are prepared that if something develops along that line we have a countermeasure.
    "But nobody's planning that way. You want to win this thing straight up. You want to win it because you did a better job than he did, not because somebody else got involved in the equation."


     A dark and stormy day at the track....with Jeff Gordon here bouncing between team tents (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    So Stewart is playing this as if he's got nothing to lose?
   "I am not really buying it," Edwards says. "He does have two trophies already at home, which is a huge accomplishment.
    "I don't know any part of that trophy that makes the car faster this Sunday.
    "But if you are asking me to believe that he doesn’t go to bed thinking that he wants to win this thing as bad as anyone, I don't believe that.
    "We both are competitors and have that same desire to win…and same pressure that comes with that.
    "I truly believe this could come down to who wins this race is going to win this championship."

    Despite Stewart's needling, Edwards seems to be keeping his cool.
   "There are a couple of reasons I am not nervous about this…." Edwards says, without revealing them.
   "I have learned a lot about Tony, and the way he competes, and things he does, what he says.
    "I have paid attention to what Tony says…and the way he looks when he gets out of the car…and the body language he uses.
    "He is as good as they get. And I am going to go out there and do the best I can. If that is good enough to beat them, then I am not afraid to admit in front of the world that I am going to be proud…
   "I do not underestimate Tony and that crew. I don't underestimate the engines they have, and cars they put out.
    "I've seen what they are capable of at the 1-1/2-mile tracks. At Vegas if they hadn't had trouble on pit road, we probably don't win that race. Texas -- I saw in my windshield how fast they are. I believe they are going to be that tough at Homestead.
    "I am taking for granted that we are going to be up there fighting for the lead; we have been able to do that almost every year at Homestead.
    "But I feel this year those guys are as tough as they have ever been on a 1-1/2-mile track.
     "I think it could truly come down to one of us has to win this race."

     Palm trees swaying in the breeze....which became a rather strong ocean rainstorm as Friday went on (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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