Tony Stewart coming in loud and clear
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Tony Stewart's message Sunday after another victory: "I told you guys last week. Nobody listens to me."
Oh, believe me, Tony. Everyone is listening now, including Carl Edwards, who finished second in the top-two showdown at Texas Motor Speedway.
"He did a great job today and stepped it up," Edwards said of Stewart. "But I'm proud of my guys. We still have the points lead."
That fact is unexplainably preposterous. Stewart now has won four of eight Chase races. Edwards is winless in the Chase but leads the standings by three points, proof positive that the new points format still doesn't give enough reward for winning.
"You can do the simple math and figure out we gained over half of it [he was eight points back entering the Texas race] in one week," Stewart said. "We have two races to go. It doesn't take much. It's one spot if you win."
If Stewart keeps this up, he won't let the points system beat him. And NASCAR is getting exactly what it needs out of this Chase -- two of its biggest stars neck and neck for the Sprint Cup championship with two races remaining.
"We're not counting on [Edwards] making mistakes," Stewart said. "We are controlling our destiny. We aren't worried about what they're doing. It's theirs to lose now. I don't know if they have a choice now. We're going to take it if we want it."
And he wants it. One week ago after winning at Martinsville, Stewart said Edwards "better be worried." Stewart said Edwards wouldn't have it easy the final three races.
Clearly, he meant it. And he believes it.
"Do not count us out, I can tell you that,'' Stewart said in Victory Lane on Sunday. "But I don't think we have to say anything. Our performance speaks for itself."
Does Stewart need to tell Edwards again?
"Oh, he knows," Stewart said. "Trust me."
In the end, the Texas AAA 500 lived up to the hype. It took about 260 boring laps before it happened, but it was worth watching down the stretch.
Promotional master Eddie Gossage, president of TMS, played up the Edwards-Stewart battle with a weeklong boxing theme. It included a tale of the tape, boxing lockers for both guys and a giant banner with Don King and the drivers.
Even King couldn't have saved this thing most of the day. But there they were when the race was on the line, the championship contenders first and second on the track.
Edwards' crew got him out of the pits first before a restart with 68 laps to go. Stewart passed Edwards for the lead on a restart with 60 laps left.
But both drivers had to wait and see if they could beat Jeff Burton in the final 20 laps. Burton was trying to win it on fuel mileage. He didn't come close, running dry with five laps to go.
"I've never cheered so hard for Jeff Burton in my life," said Edwards, hoping Burton could keep Stewart from earning those three bonus points for winning. "If I could have loaned Jeff some fuel, I would have."
If Edwards is going to win this title over Stewart, he'll have to do it himself.
"We can walk out of here with our heads up," Edward said. "I told our team, 'We're still leading this thing.'"
It sounds a little like Edwards is trying to convince himself of his chances. He has finished behind Stewart in five of the eight playoff races, including the past three. And Edwards continues to hear Stewart playfully taunt him.
"Man, we're gonna hold Tony to it," Edwards said. "They're gonna have to run that well to beat us these last two races.
"I'm going to go out there and compete as hard as I can. It's fun to joke around, but that's extra energy not spent in the right place. I learned early in life, be careful when you throw those jabs, somebody might get you."
A little taunt of his own from Edwards.
It's mano a mano now for Edwards and Stewart.
Kasey Kahne, who finished third Sunday, can't wait to see it.
"Tony and Carl are going for it," Kahne said. "I have no idea who will win it. Tony's had a great Chase and Carl has been strong all year. Tony knows he's the fastest guy here and they are doing everything right. But Carl also thinks he's the fastest guy here. It's going to be pretty fun to watch."
Now we get to pull out all the stops these last two races. Folks ought to stay tuned. It's going to get pretty exciting.” -- Carl Edwards
Few people believed Stewart could run this well in the Chase, including Stewart, after he went winless in the regular season. Before the Chase started, Stewart was so disgusted he said his team had no shot and was just taking up space in the playoff.
Obviously, his attitude has made a 180-degree turn. He knows a third championship is within his grasp now. And he's making sure Edwards knows it, too. But Edwards doesn't need the lecture.
"I don't underestimate them for a second," Edwards said. "I know how good they are. But we're going to be good as well.
"The story of our season is never quitting, never giving up, no matter how well someone else runs. We're going to be right there. I feel more comfortable in this points battle than any I've been in. We really have to race only one other guy."
That's true. And it happens to be Stewart, one of the best ever to strap in a race car. And once he gets on a roll, he's like a pit bull within reach of raw meat. He's coming.
But Edwards has a message, too: Bring it on.
"Now we get to pull out all the stops these last two races," Edwards said. "Folks ought to stay tuned. It's going to get pretty exciting."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.