It’s one of the greatest moments in every sport when the championship comes down to one last snap, one last shot or one last pitch. NASCAR fans will get to feel that experience this weekend at Miami when Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart take the green flag for the final 400 miles of the season to determine who will be crowned the 2011 Sprint Cup champion.
The new point system has set up the closest points battle going into the final race since the Chase started in 2004. After 35 races, Edwards will take a slim 3-point lead over Stewart into Sunday’s Ford 400. Edwards has been on top of the points after each of the last six races while Stewart has had to drive his way back into contention as he trailed Edwards by 24 points after the fifth race of the Chase at Charlotte.
Both drivers have more than earned their spot in this two-man showdown this weekend as they have put together the kind of seasons that will always put you in position to run for the title. It also helps that both drivers seem to really hit their stride during the 10-race Chase. If you want to ever entertain thoughts of winning a championship, this is when you need to be up on the wheel.
Edwards has been consistent all season long even though his lone victory came back in March at Las Vegas. That one victory was worth 3 bonus points to start the Chase, and it is ironic that he now has only a 3-point lead over Stewart. If there ever was a case to be made on how important it is to win races in this sport, you don’t have to look any further than this stat.
Edwards’s lone win is backed up by 18 top-5 finishes and 25 top- 10 finishes for the season. Since late August he has finished only once outside of the top 10 and that was at Talladega where he chose to run in the rear all race in order to avoid being caught up in a wreck, but he still managed to finish 11th. On the season he has a finishing average of 9.5 and an average starting position of 9.6.
Stewart has taken a slightly different path to put him in contention for the title this weekend. He has posted four wins on the season with all four coming in the Chase. He hasn’t shown the overall consistency of Edwards as he has posted only eight top-5 and 18 top-10 finishes, but in the last three races he has two wins and a third-place finish. He has also led the most laps three out of the last four races including the last two. He has an average finish of 12.3 with an average starting position of 17.7.
Both of these drivers and their teams will enter this weekend’s showdown with a ton of confidence and both are the type of drivers who will not let the pressure of the moment get to them. That pressure will build all week and it could be that qualifying may be more stressful than the race itself. Starting up front will be important, as eight of the 11 winners at Miami have come from a top-10 starting position.
CHASE NOTES: With only 3 points separating the two drivers, there is the possibility that it could end up in a tie. The first tiebreaker is the number of wins on the year which would give Stewart the title because of his edge in wins (4-1) over Edwards.