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Edwards, Stewart square off in season finale
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Tony Stewart It’s tough to rank Stewart ahead of Carl Edwards or vise versa, but Smoke gets the edge here because he’s throwing wins on the board — and that’s fun to watch.
2. Carl Edwards His consistency — highlighted by consecutive runner-up showings — is unquestioned. Edwards won the season finale in Homestead last season. Winning a second straight would clinch the title.
3. Kasey Kahne Kahne and his Red Bull team have been as good as anyone in the Chase — well OK, outside of the two guys above. Had he made the playoffs, he’d still be mathematically alive.
4. Matt Kenseth Led 49 laps at Phoenix before the brakes started to fade. Then Brian Vickers did neither himself nor Kenseth any favors by flagrantly exacting some revenge.
5. Kevin Harvick Harvick will come up just shy of a championship once again, most likely finishing third. But that’s OK Kev, you still have the coolest paint scheme on tour.
6. Jimmie Johnson Johnson’s five-year reign may be over, but let’s not proclaim the Jimmie Johnson Era over. J.J. and Chad Knaus will probably just come back more focused and determined next season.
7. Brad Keselowski Keselowski’s three wins in 2011 are more than Penske’s No. 12 team have enjoyed in the six previous years combined. It’s possible he could double that number next year.
8. Denny Hamlin When asked whether his sports psychologist might help teammate Kyle Busch he said, “We both have screws loose — it’s just that some are tighter than others. And they’re in different places.” That’s deep.
9. Clint Bowyer Bowyer is finishing his tenure at Richard Childress Racing strong with six top 10s in the nine Chase races thus far. Credit driver and team for hanging tough.
10. Greg Biffle Has averaged a 14th-place finish throughout the Chase which, incidentally, is probably where he’ll finish in the point standings if Kasey Kahne keeps coming on.
11. Jeff Gordon Looked as out to lunch at Phoenix as we’ve seen all year. Experimenting, maybe?
12. AJ Allmendinger Allmendinger will be the next driver to score his first Cup victory. Hell, it could come this weekend.
13. Marcos Ambrose Between Allmendinger and Ambrose, it’s obvious they’re doing something right at RPM (or they’re not tinkering with new setups as much as other teams are).
14. Kyle Busch Official reason for Kyle’s DNF at Phoenix: Karma.
15. Martin Truex Jr. If this team could ever learn to put an entire race together they’d be dangerous.
Just off the lead pack: Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Ryan Newman