At the beginning of the day Sunday, the talk of the Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was NASCAR’s decision to park Kyle Busch as punishment for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday in Friday night’s Truck race.
By the end of the day, though, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was all but forgotten, and a former JGR star had stolen the show with a dominant performance, part of a resurgence that could propel him to a third Cup title.
Tony Stewart spanked the field Sunday, leading over half the race on his was to his fourth win in eight Chase races. I have tried to find every excuse to not jump on the Smoke bandwagon, namely because he had not been able to show the consistency needed to capitalize whenever he had put up strong performances earlier this season.
Stewart won the first two races of the Chase, then followed up those performances with a dismal 25th-place showing at Dover in race 3. But Sunday was the first time since March that Stewart has been that strong over the course of an entire event.
He shaved five points off the lead of Carl Edwards, who finished right on Stewart’s heels at TMS is second spot. Edwards was strong at Texas, but never showed the strength that Stewart had as he raced off for his fourth win of the season.
These last two races could possibly rival last season’s ending, when three drivers battled it out to the end in Homestead. This year’s race will be a two-horse race (assuming nothing catastrophic happens at Phoenix next week) but promises to be just as exciting with both drivers performing at such high levels.
Phoenix will be pivotal for Stewart, who is heading into a race having won two straight for the second time in less than two months. But for him to have any chance of stealing the title from Edwards at Homestead, he’ll have to make sure not to repeat that Dover performance. That dreadful 25th-place run is the only thing that is keeping me from fully jumping on board Stewart’s team, as I still think it’s Edwards’ title to lose.
But Stewart’s performance Sunday at Texas was more of a statement than anything he’s done all year, given that it was Edwards’ best track and was seen as a chance for Edwards to gain some breathing room between he and the pack. Stewart not only saw to it that that didn’t happen, but he narrowed the gap heading to Phoenix, a major unknown given the repaving and reconfiguration that has happened there since the Cup race in April.
This is the ending of the year that NASCAR had to be clamoring for: a close race with a guarantee of a champion not named Jimmie Johnson. Edwards and Stewart are almost assuredly going to put on a great show for the next two week, and the 14 team’s performance at Texas, Edwards and his team better be on their A-game when they roll into the desert.