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Raise your hand if you saw Tony Stewart as a championship contender just 2 months ago.

I sure didn't, and most of you probably agree with me. Coming into the final 10 races, he had a measly 3 top fives with no wins. But after his fourth win in eight Chase races, "Smoke" is the real deal. A large reason for that is his aggressiveness on restarts. He's now won 2 races in NASCAR's "Playoffs" by making daring 3-wide passes on the final restart. But Tony's downfall has been finishes of 25th, 15th, 8th, and 7th on days where he didn't win. He must capitalize on those type days and get top five finishes.

Carl Edwards, the only driver who can realistically challenge Stewart for the top prize, has had consistency as his backbone, with 11 consecutive top 11 finishes. Week after week, even when things look dark, even when he's outside the top 20 and things look hopeless, Carl's been able to rebound in the closing laps and grab top 5 finishes. Sometimes by luck, others by a last-minute setup change. However, his best finish prior to today was 3rd, and has only been able to get the checkers once this season.

The AAA Texas 500 was an uneventful one, at times green-flag runs of over 100 laps would take place. In fact, I thought that only the last 100 laps were worth watching, as multiple cautions bunched up the field. A caution from Joey Logano's blown engine on Lap 275 of 334 prompted a restart, in which Stewart made a 3-wide pass that would ultimately win him the race. But before the race was over, guys like Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman attempted to play the fuel mileage game. Only Burton made a serious run at the win, however, but he wound up running 6 laps short on fuel after having a 16-second lead over the No. 14 of Stewart.

The championship picture looks like this: Carl Edwards holds a 3-point lead over Stewart, with the next closest competitor, Kevin Harvick, being 32 points behind, too far back to make a serious run. Due to Kyle Busch missing the race, Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon both jumped two spots, and "Rowdy" finds himself in 11th place, 100 points behind. Honestly, I expect things to stay very close between 1st and 2nd down until Homestead, which should prove an epic championship battle. Everyone else might as well use these final two races as practice sessions for 2012.

BTW, unless you've been in la-la land for the past week, you've probably heard of Kyle being parked for aggressive driving in the Truck race on Friday night. Michael McDowell was his replacement for Texas, bringing home a disappointing 33rd-place finish. I expected a little more out of him, maybe a top 20 or so. As for Kyle's future, I wouldn't be surprised at all if NASCAR bans him for the rest of the season, or at the very least fine him and dock him owner's points.

Looking forward to Phoenix next week, I honestly have no clue what will happen. Read more about the new configuration here. It probably won't be that much different, I still think that Carl, Jeff, all of the usual favorites will be right up there. But I don't know for sure, just gonna wait until after practice and quals!!!

 

Now, here's an update of my Chase picks. BTW, a plus sign and number by the driver's name means that that certain driver is however many positions up in the real standings from where I predicted him to be in mine. A minus sign means the same thing, just that the driver is worse than I expected him to be. A zero in parentheses means the driver is right where I predicted him to be. Remember, these will change weekly:

  1. Jeff Gordon(-7)
  2. Jimmie Johnson (-4)
  3. Carl Edwards (+2)
  4. Kyle Busch (-7)
  5. Kevin Harvick (+2)
  6. Kurt Busch(-3)
  7. Brad Keselowski (+2)
  8. Matt Kenseth (+4)
  9. Denny Hamlin (-1)
  10. Ryan Newman (-2)
  11. Tony Stewart (+9)
  12. Dale Jr. (+5)

Wow. I'm pretty bad at that. LOL, I'm waaaaay off. There's always 2012, I guess.....anyways, post your thoughts, opinions, and anything else in the comments below!!!

 

-Duh

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Comment by Noahs4Smoke on November 8, 2011 at 7:14pm

Tony is good at Phoenix, if he gets another good finish there and smokes carl ( no pun intended ) he's got it in the bag.

          -Noah

Comment by Brikim on November 8, 2011 at 2:35pm
In my heart of hearts I wanted Jr!
I thought the 24 would get it!
But believed by track records BK would come out shaking his grove thing......shows you what I know.....lol
Comment by Duhhub on November 7, 2011 at 4:20pm

@14smoke, Tony has only won twice at Homestead, and that was under the old configuration back in '99-'00. Since then, he's struggled with only 1 top five and an average finish of 16th. Carl has been much more successful there, winning last year's race and finishing no worse than 8th since 2004. Because of that large differential at the finale track is why I have been placing my word on Carl. They're just too close at Phoenix in the stats/performance department to really choose there, but "Cousin Carl" has the edge in Homestead.

Comment by Duhhub on November 7, 2011 at 7:29am

Tony has to get an advantage at Phoenix if he wants a better shot on Edwards at Homestead. "Smoke" doesn't run very good at the finale track, and must beat Edwards at Phoenix, because I don't see Carl slowing down there.

But everything is really just too close to call. I don't like either of them as drivers, so I honestly don't care who wins. But I root for Edwards, 'cause I don't want to have to listen to my friend NoahsforSmoke brag about it all offseason long.  :)

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