BRISTOL, Tenn. — At first glance, seeing Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader board would appear to be case of a strange bedfellows, Edwards being perceived as the always-smiling, sort of just-happy-to-be-here kind of guy and Stewart playing the part of the brooding anti-hero.
In fact, the two are much more alike than they are different.
First, both are acknowledged as being among the best in the stock-car racing business and either wouldn’t think twice about running their mothers into a wall if it was the only way to win a race.
So it isn’t at all surprising that the pair are leading the way in the points parade.
It is equally no surprise that Edwards won the pole position Friday for Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He ran a lap of 128.014 m.p.h. in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford while Stewart will start 13th in he No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet on a lap of 126.820 m.p.h.
It was interesting to hear how similar Stewart and Edwards were when they talked Friday about how each got to the top of the heap this early in the season.
They both talked about being cheated, so to speak, out of a win — Edwards at Phoenix when he clearly had he fastest car but was taken out by Kyle Busch only 59 laps into the race and Stewart at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his team gambled wrong on a late-race tire change.
“I was pretty frustrated about Phoenix, but that’s racing,” Edwards said. “Things like that happen and the fastest car doesn’t always win.”
Stewart said that even though he is in first place, he is still troubled by the outcome at Las Vegas, just like Edwards was frustrated by his Phoenix finish.
“It’s pretty hard to appreciate (sharing the points lead) after what happened in Las Vegas,” Stewart said. “That’s a race we should’ve won.
“Winning in Sprint Cup is hard enough as it is, and when you have a race like that and you’re not able to close the deal — especially at a track where you haven’t won yet — that’s hard.”
Edwards said that circumstances, however, sometimes have a way of evening out bad finishes.
“As bad as our luck was at Phoenix, it was that good and turned right around at Vegas,” he said. “Fortunately, we benefited from Tony’s problem and now he’s frustrated.”
Make no mistake, while Stewart is still seething about the No. 14 Stewart Haas Chevrolet team’s decision to take only two tires on his final stop in Vegas, he appreciated that he didn’t lose his spot in the standings as a result.
“To be mad about a second-place finish ... that’s a good problem to have,” he said. “To have a legitimate shot to win each race so far this season is proof of that.”
Stewart and Edwards also share a healthy amount of fear about what could happen in Sunday’s race at Bristol, a track that takes no prisoners.
“It’s a place where it’s hard to have a good day,” Stewart said. “There are so many variables that can go wrong at Bristol versus other tracks. If you have that one bad incident that gets you in the back, it’s hard to recover.
“It’s like going from the bottom of the mountain and climbing and climbing and not getting anywhere. You fight and fight and fight, and at the end of the day you’re right where you were when you had your problem.”
Edwards said that Bristol is a track that occupies much more of his thought process than most on the Sprint Cup calendar.
“I’ve been going to bed at night thinking about laps at Bristol and what we’re gonna do to be fast and make sure we win and not make mistakes,” he said.
But at the end of that day, Edwards said both he and Stewart will have to face more adversity in a long 36-race schedule.
“I think it’ll end up working out, even though the bad days can have a huge impact ... I feel pretty darn good about our chances.”