Tony Stewart's Chase onslaught continues
The thing about hot streaks is, they end. Usually without warning. Sometimes in disaster.
So all I'm sayin' is, let's not get carried away here. Let's not hand the Sprint Cup to Tony Stewart just yet, the way we tried to hand it to Denny Hamlin with two races left last year, praising him for calling his shot, sure he would follow through on his -- whoops!
Stewart's onslaught -- four wins in eight Chase races, including the past two -- might not end until February's Daytona 500 or beyond.
Then again, his run of fully backing up his crowing could end this very weekend where Hamlin's did last year: at Phoenix in the next-to-last race of the Chase.
Oh, and by the way, Carl Edwards, the Chase leader who seems so much to be Stewart's prey with only a three-point lead, has won two of the past three season finales at Homestead-Miami.
Edwards is a soft-spoken guy, always measured (at least before the media), never given to smack talk.
So now, it's hard to tell whether he is rattled by Stewart's onslaught of verbiage and driving.
Sunday night at Texas, after finishing second -- but losing clearly -- to Stewart, who continued verbal pummeling, Edwards spoke softly to reporters at the track when he said, "It would be really fun to be standing up there last one on stage at the banquet. I might have a couple jokes then. That would be a good time for them."
Rattled or polite? Who knows?
But his refrain Sunday, as it had been after Stewart's win the previous Sunday at Martinsville, remained: "There couldn't be a better place to finish than Homestead."
Edwards calls newly reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway the great unknown. Stewart points out he had the quickest car in the open tire test on the new surface, but that was back in August, in hotter weather.
Listen carefully to the unsung architect of Stewart's streak, crew chief Darian Grubb, who kept his head this past summer when Stewart was telling the world the team didn't deserve to make the Chase.
The Phoenix track "is going to change while we're there, with all the practice we have," Grubb said Sunday night. "We have to be smart how we adapt to those changes."
Thing is, Stewart has had some fast cars at Phoenix but hasn't actually won there in Cup since his rookie year, 1999. He hasn't won at Homestead since 2000, and that was before that track was reconfigured.
Hamlin, too, called his shot last fall, to a point. His idea was to get past Talladega, the crapshoot point in the Chase, then turn up the burners.
But at Phoenix, he and crew chief Mike Ford miscommunicated on fuel mileage; Hamlin had to pit late, finished 12th, and that was the end of all that confidence.
The winner of that race, by the way, was Carl Edwards.
"It's theirs to lose now," Stewart said of the championship and Edwards' team. "But I don't know that they have a choice now. ... We're going to take it if we want it. Today is a perfect example."
Stewart of all people ought to know that no "today" is a predictor of any tomorrow in NASCAR. He won the first two races of this Chase. Then in the next two, he proceeded to finish 25th and 15th while Edwards finished third and fifth. That's a "perfect example" of how Edwards still clings to the lead.
Edwards' situation is a classic example of what few, other than deeply traditional fans, want to see: His prospect is to win the championship with consistency and, so far, only one race win.
About that one win, at Las Vegas: Listen again carefully to the clear-headed Grubb.
Asked Sunday night whether he could remember a race this season when the 14 team was as dominant as at Texas, Grubb said, "Las Vegas is one we qualified, stayed up front, dominated the race," but then ... "had bad luck and finished second.
"Kick myself now, because I wish we'd done two tires there at the end to pull off that win instead of Carl. ... Those are points we know we gave up early in the season."
To be sure, as Grubb quickly added, things are clicking now. Clockwork. And the tendency is to hop onto the Smokewagon, because he's doing it right: gunning for a championship by winning races.
I like that, too. But I'm not counting on it just yet. I'm just sayin'. ...
Nationwide Series: Bayne roars back into the spotlight
So what ever became of Trevor Bayne?
You know, the 21-year-old who won the Daytona 500 out of nowhere back in February, then was hospitalized with an illness that confounded his physicians, then was sidelined, then ... well ... slipped for a while from the public consciousness?
He was spotted alive and well -- and beaming again with those perfect teeth and impeccable manners and genuine enthusiasm -- in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.
And he got there in a way that couldn't be ascribed a whit to the fickle drafts of restrictor-plate racing.
"Daytona is great, but that's restrictor-plate racing," Bayne told reporters at the track. "I hate to say it, but a lot of people could be in Victory Lane there. But to win at a mile and a half, that has been one of my dreams, and Texas is by far one of the toughest places to drive. ..."
And so, "This is just as surreal as the 500," he said. "That's hard to say, but this has been so long."
In a way he came out of nowhere again, showing the strength of his Ford Mustang only when it mattered. His crew had sorted out the handling at just the right time.
"That was a last-minute save by [crew chief] Chad Norris," Bayne said. "I didn't think this car had it in it. I thought it might all week, but with about 14 to go, I didn't know if we'd be able to get up there and get the wins, but he dialed it in and the pit crew did a great job of getting me back out, and this thing was a beast at the end."
Bayne led but six laps -- the final six -- of the 200, after Edwards had led 157.
On the final restart, "I picked the outside because I thought, 'All right, Trevor's behind me; he'll help me out,'" Edwards said. "And he did. He helped me all the way down into Turn 1. I wasn't too worried about him turning in. ..."
But as they went down the backstretch on the first lap after the restart, "Those guys [Bayne's branch of Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards' team] at the end were just so fast on short runs. ..."
Edwards finished third, behind Hamlin, who was driving in place of the suspended Kyle Busch.
"It's frustrating to lose this race," Edwards said, "but I couldn't lose it to a better guy. He's a good friend."
Camping World Truck Series: Kyle Busch's antics steal show
Kevin Harvick went from victim to victor, with the Brothers Dillon in hot pursuit at the end. Austin Dillon left himself with a cakewalk to the Trucks championship, and younger brother Ty finished third to show he'll be a solid replacement when Austin graduates to Nationwide next year.
But also for the record, here's a detailed recap of Busch's deeds, then back to the race that followed.
On the 14th lap, Busch was pressing James Buescher for the lead when Hornaday slipped alongside Busch. Hornaday, at that point still in the hunt for the championship, pulled slightly in front of Busch before they ran up on the lapped truck of Johnny Chapman.
Neither Busch nor Hornaday would lift as they went three-wide. Hornaday, in the middle, clipped Chapman and then came up into Busch, and they both scraped the wall.
Seconds after a caution came out, Busch ran down Hornaday and hammered on his bumper until Hornaday was turned into the wall head-on. Then Busch went into the wall himself.
NASCAR then parked Busch for the rest of the race and began the overnight deliberations that resulted in NASCAR's first fully Kyle-less weekend since 2004.
Now back to the race.
Harvick spent most of his Victory Lane interview fielding questions about his teammate and employee, Hornaday, being taken out of the race and championship contention by what might have been Busch's career masterpiece of flying off the handle.
Busch "definitely showed his immaturity and why he's just one of those guys who just can't stand to lose," Harvick told Speed TV reporters at the track.
Meanwhile, the Dillons were exhilarated about racing each other, and Harvick, at the end. And Austin got a gift he didn't particularly want -- his closest rival for the season title, James Buescher, ran out of fuel toward the end.
On the final restart, with three laps left, "I spun the tires getting going but I had my brother behind me helping me out," Austin, 21, said of Ty, 19. "I was hoping he could push me down the backstretch to clear Harvick, but I got a little loose on the right front and had to turn back under Harv."
"I really wanted to push him to the lead," Ty said, "but I lost the front end getting too close behind him."
Then Ty admitted about his older brother, "I really wanted to pass him, but he's got some bigger things coming."
Like a championship. Austin will collect that with a 16th-place finish or better in the season finale at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 18.
Then their grandfather, Richard Childress, will move Austin up to Nationwide and Ty into the Trucks ride for 2012.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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