This is NASCAR'S best Chase ever

Tony Stewart in his number 4 Chevrolet edges Clint Bowyer in his number 33 Chevrolet to win the...

Tony Stewart in his number 4 Chevrolet edges Clint Bowyer in his number 33 Chevrolet to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach on Feb. 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:37 PM ET

The debate in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage area at Phoenix International Raceway during this past weekend was: Is this the best Chase for the Championship ever?

With one race left in the 10-race Chase it certainly would seem so.

Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart are locked in a points battle that has been building to a crescendo over the past five races.

And when the pair came out of Martinsville with just eight points separating them it was clear that with three races left it was to be a two-man battle.

Now after Texas and Phoenix the margin is three points. It may as well be zero because it will all come down to Sunday’s Ford 400 for all the marbles.

When the Chase format was introduced back in 2004 there were many who thought it was just a gimmick to keep up interest in big league stock car racing when it went head-to-head with the other professional sports leagues for attention in the late fall.

And it really was just that in the first few seasons. But this year it has turned into a barn-burner that has created its own hype.

It has, indeed, come of age.

GORDON WON’T WRECK TITLE CONTENDERS

Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon will be on the outside looking in as Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart battle for the 2011 trophy but he is able to offer some valuable insight into racing with the pair on Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While he would love to notch a win at the 1.5-mile oval — one of the few tracks where the No. 24 Chevrolet team has yet to taste victory — he admits he doesn’t want to be the one driver who might cost either contender the championship.

But if it is a fight for a win that courtesy is out the window.

“You have to kind of take that (championship battle) into account,” Gordon, who is 11th in the standings, said. “You don’t want to be the individual that costs somebody the championship because you did something dumb racing way back in the pack.

“But, for me, I don’t care who it is if I’m racing for the win. I’m going to race them hard — just like any other race — if a victory is on the line.”

What he hopes to get at Homestead is some momentum that he can carry with him and the team into next season.

“A solid run can give us confidence and momentum as we go into the off-season and 2012,” Gordon said.

KENSETH TURNS THE OTHER CHEEK

Matt Kenseth got lots of advice on what to do about Brian Vickers wrecking him at Phoenix International Raceway.

Most of it was about returning the favour as soon as possible. After all, that was what Vickers did to him in retaliation for the two crashing at Martinsville.

Kenseth, however, took the high road.

“I don’t stoop to that level,” he said. “When we had our problem at Martinsville it was heat of the moment. Hindsight I should have let him go because you realize who he is and what he is.

“I would never wait for somebody and take a cheap shot like that. You can hurt someone and that isn’t sportsmanlike and that isn’t something I would do.”

 


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