News & Media

Preview: Stewart says advantage his; mum on particulars

November 11, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

Tony Stewart's uniform was still damp with sweat and champagne when he re-commenced his psychological assault on Carl Edwards after last Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

"It's theirs to lose now," Stewart said with a smirk, his words clearly directed as much at Edwards and his team as the media and fans.

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And if that wasn't enough, the two-time champ then slyly dropped this little cutie when asked if he may have an edge on Edwards, who has never won a Cup championship: "It's definitely an advantage. But I'm not going to tell you why 'cause that's what I'm going to take to the next two weeks with me. We win this thing, I'll tell you what the advantage is and why. But there's an advantage."

And why not continue hammering away at Edwards' head? In a Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff that is shaping up to be the closest ever, any advantage Stewart can gain over Edwards could turn out to be a big advantage.

When the Cup cars take to the track at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend to compete in the Kobalt Tools 500, the second-to-last race of the 2011 season, Edwards will hold a velum-thin lead over Stewart in the standings: three points.

Edwards has been, by far, the more consistent of the two drivers throughout the season -- he has 10 more top-five finishes in 2011 and seven more top-10s. Edwards has yet to DNF this season.

But Stewart and his team have gale-force winds at their backs this week. They have won the past two races, jumping from fourth to second in points and lopping 16 points from Edwards' Chase lead in the process.

In the past, Stewart has said he does not believe in momentum. He reiterated that last weekend after the Texas victory, but, he also said that things are going so well for his team that they now possess the power to control the future even though they are second in points.

"I'm not worried about anybody," Stewart said shortly after posting his fourth victory in eight Chase races. "I'm worried about what we're doing, and that's it. I mean, make no mistakes, understand this when you leave here, for the next two weeks, I don't care what he does. I didn't care what he did last week. I didn't care what he did this week. I was worried about the 14 car and that's all. That's why we had the result we had [Sunday]. We're not worrying about somebody else or something else.

"Everybody else has to worry about what we're doing, why and how."

Phoenix would appear to be a place that favors neither driver. Both have one victory at the dusty 1-mile oval, and their average finishes are almost identical at 11.7 for Stewart and 13.0 for Edwards.

That even-up past is leveled more this week as NASCAR teams and drivers will be racing for the first time at the reconfigured PIR surface. Both Stewart and Edwards have driven on the revamped surface, but that was during the open test held there several weeks ago.

Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief, said that even the data gathered from the test could be useless on race day. "The track is going to change while we're there with all the practice we have."

So, success this weekend -- and then at the following weekend in the Chase-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedwa -- could boil down the psychological battle.

And Stewart clearly believes he is already winning that baby.

Chase at Phoenix

For Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth, 33 and 38 points, respectively, behind Chase leader Carl Edwards, it's time to stand up and be counted. The third- and fourth-place drivers need nothing short of spectacular performances at Phoenix -- along with major trouble for Edwards and second-place Tony Stewart -- to keep alive their slim championship hopes.
At a full-field tire test at Phoenix in early October, Tony Stewart was fastest. Carl Edwards was 28th on the speed chart, nearly 4 mph slower than Stewart on the repaved, reconfigured 1-mile track. Most drivers will tell you that test results don't matter when it comes to the race itself. If that's the case, then why is Stewart constantly reminding everyone that he was at the top of the list?
Phoenix has sold out its grandstands for Sunday's race, a rarity in the current economy. Tickets are still available for Rattlesnake Hill, which overlooks Turns 3 and 4. A rattlesnake roundup a few days before each race takes care of most of the snakes, but it still pays to be wary.
In the estimation of most drivers, Phoenix is a completely new race track. Repaved and reconfigured after the race Jeff Gordon won in February, the "new" 1-mile speedway underwent significant changes, including a 95-foot outward shift of the dogleg in the backstretch and the installation of graduated banking in the corners. There's a significant dip in the dogleg, giving the track a roller-coaster effect as it moves downhill out of Turn 2, uphill toward the end of the dogleg and downhill into Turn 3.


• Tony Stewart has four wins and eight top-10s in the past 10 races (25th at Dover is his only result worse than 15th during that span); he is tied with Carl Edwards in points scored during the Chase (313).
• Carl Edwards is the only driver with seven top-10 finishes in the eight Chase races (all top-11); he has only one finish worse than 14th in the past 17 races.
• Kasey Kahne has top-six finishes in five of the past six races with four of fourth or better; he had only three top-fives in the first 28 races.
• Clint Bowyer has top-10 finishes in five of the past eight races, including a win (Talladega).
• A.J. Allmendinger has top-11 finishes in three of the past four races; Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose has top-11 finishes in four of the past six races.
• Greg Biffle has only three top-10 finishes in the past 13 races (average finish of 17th).
• Kurt Busch has not had a top-10 finish in the five races since his Dover win; he has two finishes in the 30s during that span and has dropped from fourth place (nine points out of first) to ninth place (87 points behind) in the Chase.
• Joey Logano has no top-10 finishes in the past 12 races (seven finishes of 20th or worse).
• Mark Martin has finishes of 19th or worse in six of past seven races.
• Juan Montoya has only one top-10 finish in the past 12 races.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished seventh in the past two races, his best results since finishing third at Chicagoland in the first race of the Chase; he also has finished 17th or worse four times in the Chase.
• Jimmie Johnson has three finishes of first (win at Kansas) or second but three finishes of 18th or worse in the Chase. Johnson is sixth in the standings (55 points behind the leader); he has never finished worse than fifth in points in his nine previous full-time seasons (currently six points behind fifth place).

"The fun thing is I don't feel like I have to say anything," he said after beating Edwards at Texas. "I feel like I already got it done."