Smoke Wins Again
Tony "Smoke" Stewart muscled past Jimmy Johnson with three laps remaining to win Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The win drives a nail in Johnson's hope for a six-peat and moves Stewart near the front for the last three races.
The victory was Stewart's third of the Chase and the 42nd of his career. It also moves him into second place in the standings, a slim eight points behind leader Carl Edwards. With three races remaining the championship comes down to this. Carl Edwards leads, Tony Stewart hounding the leader and Kevin Harvick a distant third with a 21 point deficit to Edwards.
At the finish line it was Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon in third, Kevin Harvick fourth, and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top five. Jeff Burton sixth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman in tenth.
Edwards leaves Martinsville on top of the leaderboard but Stewart vows to make it a run to the trophy. "He'd better be worried," Stewart referring to the leader. "That's all I can say. He's not going to have an easy three weeks."
In the post-race presser Edwards responded, "I think Tony and those guys, they've won three Chase races. When I sat in here on Friday, I told you guys I thought he was one of the guys that could win this race and be a guy that you'd have to beat for the championship. I think he's proven that. He's proving it right now.
"But, yeah, we'll have fun. We'll go race hard. They're going to have to race us, too. I'm excited about the next three races."
So with three races to go the question is: What's more important at this stage of the Chase, momentum or consistency. Stewart has the momentum. He's won three of the seven Chase races. Edwards has the consistency. He's been in the top-ten for every Chase race except Talladega where he finished 11th.
For Harvick to have a shot he'll need a win in one of the last three races (Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead) and he'll need some help from the front runners.
All things being equal, I'd say the 2011 race has come down to-- it's Edwards trophy to lose, Stewart's trophy to win, and Harvick's trophy to hope.
Sprint Cup Standings
NASCAR rolls into Texas Motor Speedway for next week's running of the AAA Texas 500. Race starts at 3:00 pm Eastern on ESPN.