This time, Homestead matters.

For the past two seasons, the Nationwide Series points champion was decided long before the 35th and final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Carl Edwards won the championship by 618 points last year, and two years ago, Kevin Harvick blew away the competition by a record-setting 824 points.

This year, however, 56 points stand between leader Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards entering Saturday's Ford 300.

Vying for his second straight championship, Edwards has been on the move in the past month, winning two races and chopping 140 points off Bowyer's lead.

"We have a legitimate shot for the championship this weekend, and we are definitely focused on winning it," Edwards said. "The guys are motivated and understand what we need to do."

Edwards finished fourth in last year's race and second the year before. Roush Fenway Racing cars traditionally run well at the track.

"Homestead is a great 1.5-mile track for us with lots of grooves, just like I like," he said. "I plan on pressing it hard and going for the win. It would be great to cap off the season with a victory and another championship."

Playing defence will be Bowyer, who also is seeking the owner's championship for Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer's #2 team trails the #20 of Joe Gibbs Racing by 28 points in the owner standings.

"We just have to keep doing what we've been doing. We're not in a panic situation," Bowyer said. "We've got a 56-point lead but don't get me wrong, we still have to protect that lead. This is a very good race team, and I feel like the only ones who can beat us out of this championship is ourselves."

Although Bowyer has one victory to Edwards' six this season and has finished behind Edwards in each of the past three races, Bowyer has been solid week after week. He has a series-high 28 top tens - seven more than Edwards - and his average finish of 8.4 is tops, too. Edwards is second at 9.8. Bowyer has two top tens in four races at Homestead.

"We're going to do everything the same way we've done it all season," Bowyer said. "And, as long as we do that, we'll be just fine and the championship will take care of itself."

by Amanda Brahler/Sporting News

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