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Talking about done as Edwards, Stewart set to do the Texas two-step

November 05, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Carl Edwards says he has his eye on more than just one driver; Tony Stewart is sheepishly grinning and ready to pounce. (Getty Image)

Talking about done as Edwards, Stewart set to do the Texas two-step

FORT WORTH, Tex. -- On either side of the double doors that lead into the main room of the infield media center at Texas Motor Speedway there are mock-ups of lockers containing boxing gloves and robes emblazoned with their nicknames: Cousin Carl and Smoke.

You've got to give it to Eddie Gossage, president of the 1.5-mile track and easily the most aggressive promoter left in stock car racing these days. He's really pushing this Carl Edwards-Tony Stewart showdown heading into Sunday's AAA Texas 500.

"All the talk in the world doesn't mean anything. You have to go out here and perform and race well and that's what we're here to do."

--CARL EDWARDS


_______________________

" If he thinks it's just a mind game, I really don't care what he does. ... I'm going to control my destiny and my car."

--TONY STEWART

"Eddie has had a good time with it. That's pretty neat to see my locker on the way in here," Edwards said Friday.

With three races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Edwards enters Sunday's race as proud owner of an eight-point lead over Stewart, who sits second in the point standings. Stewart won last Sunday at Martinsville and sounded the alarm immediately afterward that Edwards better be on the lookout for him, because he's coming.

During his own media availability session at TMS on Friday, Stewart steadfastly refused to back off from his earlier post-race bravado.

"The feeling hasn't changed," said Stewart, winner of three of the first seven Chase races. "It wasn't adrenaline that was saying that. I've been racing 31 years and we've been a part of a lot of championship battles. I know what that feeling is when you feel that stuff is going right and that you've got that shot again."

Stewart has won two previous Cup championships, in 2001 and again in '05. He's the only driver to have won titles in both the pre-Chase and Chase eras.

But Edwards, who is seeking his first Cup championship, insisted he's as much or more worried about a group of drivers behind Stewart in the standings -- presumably a foursome comprised of Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and five-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson -- as he is about Stewart. Asked about the verbal war that seems to be escalating between him and Stewart, Edwards even appeared to step it up a notch while admitting, in his mind, it's all "in good fun."

"We get along real well and, for me, this week I've thought a little bit about who my real competition is and -- no offense to Tony or anything -- but I think the guys that are behind him are truly the guys who have the biggest chance of doing well over the next three weeks," Edwards added. "They've shown they can run up front in the points all year and although Tony could go on a roll, what I've been sticking to this week is that it would be foolish of me to just focus on him and not pay attention to these other guys who have been very, very fast."

"All the talk in the world doesn't mean anything. You have to go out here and perform and race well and that's what we're here to do. But it is kind of fun to joke around a little bit."

But for Stewart, the joking seems to be at an end. To say his game face is on for this weekend might be an understatement. He keeps saying his focus is no different now than it was while he was going winless in the first 26 races of the season, but he's talking and walking -- and driving -- with a swagger that he readily admitted is at a high he last reached during his last championship season six years ago.

"He's making a mistake if he's counting us out," Stewart said of Edwards. "And if he thinks it's just a mind game, I really don't care what he does. I'm going to control my destiny and my car. I don't care what he does with his car. I'm going to take care of business with ours."

"I guess I'm looking at it from the standpoint of looking up. I'm not looking behind and I'm not worried about anybody else. I'm not worried about Carl. I'm not worried about anybody else. I'm worried about what we're doing with our car. I think practice [Friday] morning showed that."

Stewart was third-fastest in that practice with a top lap of 192.713 mph -- right behind Edwards, who was second with a top lap of 193.043 mph. Greg Biffle, who went on to win the pole later Friday, was fastest in that practice session. Edwards and Biffle topped the speed chart in the first of two practices Saturday (188.897), with Stewart eighth (188.075). In the final practice Saturday, Edwards was eighth on the speed chart with a top lap of 185.033 mph in race trim -- and Stewart (184.944 mph) was right on his heels in ninth.

In qualifying, Stewart secured the fifth spot on the grid and Edwards was seventh -- with the consistent theme all weekend being that these two apparently will be around each other a whole lot come Sunday.

"We still carry the same approach that we've told everybody about for weeks and months now," Stewart said. "It's not changing and there's a reason I do it that way: it works.

"So you don't change that formula until maybe with 50 laps to go at Homestead, you might have to try something different [if you're behind]. If you're doing something that gets you to the front of this deal, you darn sure don't change that until it's over or unless you absolutely have to. So we're not planning on changing anything."

At least the two drivers can agree on that. Both believe what they have been doing has been working, so why change anything heading into the final three races of the long season?

Listen to the talk


The Chase talk leading up to Texas has been Carl Edwards vs. Tony Stewart.

"As a competitor you're always kind of keeping tabs on what's going on," Edwards said. "It allows you to decide how aggressive you want to be, but we've led the points for a little over half the season based on the way we go about our business. So I'm definitely not changing anything.

"I'm doing the same things now that we've been doing all season and, really, when you look at it seven races into the Chase, to have not had the screaming fast performance and to still be leading the points, I think that says a lot about our team's ability to focus, to rebound, to work together -- and I'm really proud of that."

Edwards did appear to eventually back off his initial statement that he's more worried about who's behind Stewart than he is Stewart himself.

"What I was talking about as far as looking back is Tony won the race and made his statements -- but what I was trying to describe there is that I don't think Tony is the only guy who can be a threat to us. I think those other guys are going to be just as tough," Edwards said.

"With the way we've run, to be leading the points now going into these three tracks -- two of which I feel very confident about -- we've never been in this good of a position before. I've never been in this good of a position as a driver in this sport and I feel we're in a really good spot."

Nonetheless, Stewart obviously likes his chances, too. He was asked if he thought he had perhaps "gotten inside Carl's head" a little bit leading up to Sunday's showdown.

"I don't know. He's growing facial hair we've never seen him have and he's saying stuff I've never heard him say, so I don't know what's going on with him this week," Stewart replied.

Watch Carl Edwards' Chase highlights:

Watch Tony Stewart's Chase highlights: