A Draw in the Desert

Kahne wins Phoenix; Edwards, Stewart remain separated by three points

Kahne wins Phoenix; Edwards, Stewart remain separated by three points

by Matt Taliaferro

Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart entered Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway separated by three points at the top of NASCAR’s championship standings. And after finishing second (Edwards) and third (Stewart), they’ll go to the season finale in Homestead, Fla., still three points apart.

Stewart led the most laps in Phoenix, and appeared to be headed toward his third consecutive victory, but surrendered the lead on lap 294 when he was forced to pit road for a splash of fuel.

That handed the lead to Kasey Kahne, who has been on a tear of his own lately. Kahne led the final 14 laps, beating Edwards to the finish line by .802 seconds. The win was Kahne’s eighth top-15 run in the last nine races — an admirable feet for team that likely will not exist next year due to Red Bull pulling out of NASCAR’s ownership ranks.

“It feels great to get a win for Red Bull and get a win in the 4 car,”?Kahne said. “It’s something new for both of us (Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis) to come over and have a one-year deal. It takes time to get familiar with things and the people and working together. To win a race at this level, as competitive as everything is right now, for myself, to see how happy all the pit crew guys were, it was pretty cool.”

Meanwhile, Edwards and Stewart are locked in a razor-thin battle for the title, using different means to achieve the same goal.

Edwards has used consistency to claim the top spot in the point standings — his worst finish since Bristol in late August was an 11th at treacherous Talladega. He and the No. 99 team have seemingly tip-toed through the Chase, averaging a 5.2-place finish thus far. He grabbed the lead at Dover in the Chase’s third event, but still has yet to win a playoff race.

“(It’s) a zero sum game, one of us is going to win, one of us is going to lose,” Edwards says. “It’s neat to me that Tony and the guys on the 14 (team) are running so well, won so many races, performing on a high level. It’s going to mean more if we’re able to beat them in this championship because of that.

“We haven’t gone out and got the trophies that we have in other Chases, but we’ve performed better than we ever have. If they’re beating us, they’re beating us at our best, and I think that’s pretty neat.”

Stewart, on the other hand, has attacked the playoffs with reckless abandon, throwing caution to the wind, ripping off four playoff wins to pull just shy of even with Edwards with one race remaining. His performance is in stark contrast to the 26-race regular season when Stewart’s No. 14 team failed to sniff Victory Lane.

“We’ve had one of those up-and-down years and we’re having a run in this Chase now where we’re hungry,” Stewart said after his third Chase win. “We’re hungry for this. I feel like our mind set into these next three weeks, we’ve been nice all year to a lot of guys, given guys a lot of breaks. We’re cashing tickets in these next three weeks.”

One final weekend, two determined drivers and three points separating them.

May the best team win.

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<p> Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart will settle NASCAR's 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup in Homestead, Fla. on Sunday.</p>


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