Even after watching Tony Stewart lead the most laps and win for the second straight week, Carl Edwards still believes he’s all talk.
[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”241″][/media-credit]Don’t misunderstand though, Edwards admits that Stewart will bring him a great challenge as he tries to win his first championship. But Edwards prefers to be leading the points instead of playing catch up, like Stewart is, because he’s done that before to no avail.
Even as Stewart closes in, Edwards says he has to run well to beat him the next two weeks. So far so good for Stewart, yet Edwards remains excited about the next two weeks. Phoenix will be an unknown with the new configuration but Homestead-Miami is a track that he is the most recent winner at.
“I think really the surprising thing for all of us today was how well Tony ran here,” said Edwards. “I didn’t expect him to run quite that well. Those guys, they did a really good job. It makes me think that Homestead could be a lot closer than I expected before this race.”
Last season Edwards won the final two races but Phoenix was repaved following this year’s February race. It now provides the potential to be a wildcard in the Chase and with just three points separating Edwards and Stewart, there is the fear of the unknown.
“We really think next week at Phoenix has a larger opportunity by a landslide to change the outcome of this Chase,” Edwards said. “That one will be a very important race. If Tony and I run 1-2 at Homestead, there’s not going to be much points change if we run like we did tonight, but Phoenix has the potential to be huge.”
So has been Stewart’s talk. Edwards felt after last week’s win that Stewart was just wound up. Following his win in Texas, Stewart said that his actions did all the talking and that he had nothing else to say. For Edwards, he has nothing to say as well. Not wanting to get caught up in off the track drama, focusing instead on his performance.
“I go out and compete as hard as I can,” said Edwards. “It is fun to joke around a little bit but at the end of the day, any extra energy I spend thinking about other stuff or worrying about other things is not spent in the right place. I’m focusing on what I’m doing. It would be really fun to be standing up there last one on stage at the banquet, I might have a couple of jokes then. That would be a good time for them.”
Edwards revealed that he’s learned that throwing jabs out has the potential to get him hurt. Now with just 14 days left before he could be holding a coveted Sprint Cup trophy, he’s not taking the risk. The No. 99 team didn’t take any Sunday either, even when thinking about staying out to try and win the race on fuel mileage.
Instead he was left hoping someone else like Jeff Burton beat Stewart to the line. Joking that if he could, he would have loaned Burton some fuel. Yet Stewart beat Edwards at what is statistically one of his best tracks, just a bit surprising to Edwards.
“I was surprised they were able to put together two weeks that were so good,” Edwards said. “That was really good work on their part. There’s nothing saying that that will play into another solid two weeks after that, but it very well could. We’re going to go home, work hard, put all our notes together from our test at Phoenix, do the best we can. From the way practice went and everything, I thought we’d have a little advantage tonight. They did their jobs very well.”
Fortunate is how Edwards says he feels to have led the points for as long as he has in 2011. It provides comfort with where he currently sits and he hopes that having been apart of past championship fights will guide him through the next two weeks. He won the 2007 Nationwide Series championship then fell short to Jimmie Johnson on the Cup side in 2008.
Those battles have made him stronger and wiser. The same goes for his Aflac team, who haven’t given up during the first eight weeks of the Chase when there could have been disastrous days. Instead fighting to the very end has led them to the point of being the first post Jimmie Johnson champions.
“I guess the best way to sum it up is to say I feel more comfortable in this points battle than in any other points battle I can remember,” Edwards said. “I feel like we only have to worry about one other guy. We still have the advantage in the points. I’ve raced Tony long enough, I feel comfortable with him, he’s not going to surprise me with anything. I’m grateful for all that experience. I hope I can turn that into a championship.”