The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship will come down to next Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway — as it should.
Because after 312 laps and 500 km on Sunday in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway nothing — points wise — was settled between Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Edwards led Stewart by three points on Sunday morning and with his second-place finish and Stewart’s third-place finish they ended the day the same way because Stewart gained an extra point for leading the most laps.
Now both drivers will go head to head at Homestead’s 11/2-mile oval to settle it all.
And both Edwards and Stewart wouldn’t have it any other way.
At one point on Sunday Edwards was behind Stewart for 40 laps and got to see firsthand how good the two-time Cup champion was.
“I followed him for about 40 laps,” he said. “It felt like I was working him over and really paying attention to what he does. I determined he is a pretty good driver. If we can win this thing beating him that would be really cool.
“There would be nothing better than coming down the last lap, side by side, racing for the win. That would be really fun.”
Stewart said the record of the No. 14 team in the 2011 version of the Chase shows that he, too, will fight right to the end next week.
“We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We have a third and two wins in the last three races so we’re going to keep the pressure on (Edwards) and we’ll make him sweat it out.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead heat going in there. I’m pumped. I wish I was going to Homestead tomorrow.”
Statistically, Edwards would appear to have an edge in performance at Homestead.
While both he and Stewart have a pair of wins at the South Florida oval, Edwards’ wins came on the reconfigured banked track last season and in 2008.
Stewart’s two wins were on the old flat track in 1999 and 2000.
But, looking at this Chase, Stewart has two of his four wins on 11/2-mile tracks — Chicagoland and Texas — that are most similar to Homestead.
“This is going to be a battle. I truly believe it’s going to be a good race,” Edwards said. “That place is magical for us. I really enjoy going there.
“I hope it comes down to the fastest guy winning the race.”
The three-point difference between Edwards and Stewart is the third-closest going into a final race in NASCAR history.
Only the 1979 championship fight between Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty and the 1990 battle between Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were closer.
The end of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 was also the end of one of the greatest record runs in NASCAR history — Jimmie Johnson’s five-year reign as Sprint Cup champion. With the 14th-place finish by the No. 48 team at PIR, it officially eliminated Johnson from the 2011 Chase for the Championship ... A pair of second-generation NASCAR drivers claimed podium positions at the K&N Pro Series West Arizona Casino 125 at Phoenix International Raceway. Ryan Blaney, 17, son of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, won the race and Chase Elliott, 15, son of former Cup champion Bill Elliott, finished third. Canadians D.J. Kennington, of St. Thomas, was 11th and Edmonton father-son team of Carl Haar and Daryl Haar finished 20th and 31st, respectively ... Big rumour in the NASCAR garage at PIR is that Kyle Busch offered Ron Hornaday Jr. a ride in his No. 18 Camping Worlds Truck Series Toyota Tundra for next season. Would that make up for wrecking Hornaday’s championship hopes at Texas? ... Strangest sight of the day at PIR was seeing former major leaguer Randy Johnson in photo vest snapping pictures for Getty Images at driver introductions.