Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards conspired to set up a thrilling end to the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase battle, finishing 1-2 in the AAA Texas 500 to close the gap between them at the top of the standings to just three points.
Stewart had laid down a verbal challenge to Edwards after winning at Martinsville last week, but few expected him to deliver on his words quite so quickly or emphatically as he did at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, a track that had traditionally been one of Edwards' strongest.
"I told you guys that last week! Nobody listens to me when I talk anymore," said Stewart in victory lane. "We are set on it man, this is just the way it is going to be!"
Polesitter Greg Biffle had led the first 23 laps of the race, but then Matt Kenseth took over and dominated the next 88 laps with the exception of some green flag pit stop sequences, right up until the first caution of the afternoon (for debris) on lap 111 - setting a new record for the most consecutive laps under green at the start of a race at Texas.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards had never been very far back from the lead, and at the restart Stewart saw his chance to go side-by-side with Kenseth and claim the lead for himself. Edwards, however, wasn't able to match their pace and started sinking back down the top ten, struggling with the car's loose handling as crew chief Bob Osborne confirmed that the #99 simply had too much camber in the right-front tyre during this stint.
After the cars had gone through a another sequence of green flag pit stops - Stewart only briefly losing the lead as the stops cycled through - a second caution came out on lap 201 as Geoffrey Bodine got encouraged into a spin by contact with Juan Montoya and Brian Vickers. Kasey Kahne had been on pit road when the caution came out and as a result led the restart, and even though Stewart blasted away and immediately resumed the top spot Kahne was nonetheless able to stay with him, and parlayed his good fortune into a strong race position for the rest of the afternoon.
Stewart was still leading Kahne when a caution came out on lap 240 for a spin by Jimmie Johnson sending the #48 sliding through the infield grass coming off turn 4. "Just a loose car," explained Johnson. "I fought a loose race car all night long ... I think sliding through the grass did some damage underneath," he continued. "It may have been the rear end or something, because it didn't really drive really good after that. We were loose, but fast beforehand and then after the spin, that really hurt the car." He would eventually recover to finish 14th.
Stewart and Kahne formed up the front row again at the restart and continued to run one-two until the fourth caution of the afternoon triggered by Joey Logano's engine blowing up, and this time Edwards - much happier now with the #99's handling - was able to beat Stewart off pit road and keep the lead at the restart after Stewart had a poor getaway. Unfortunately for Edwards it proved to be a short-lived green before another debris caution, and at the next restart on lap 275 Stewart was able to blast past Edwards for the lead. No one, it seemed, was able the match the #14 for raw speed today.
"On that last restart, I think if I could have stayed in front of him, I'd have been able to get him," said Edwards after the race. "The restart before that he spun his tyres and I felt really good about that one, [but] he timed it just right on that last restart and hung on my door."