Will Tony Stewart be leading the way to a title over Carl Edwards? Image via NASCAR.Enlarge Photo
It's safe to say that as this season comes to its conclusion, it'll be the first season that Jimmie Johnson doesn't hoist the series trophy since 2005, when one of the main principles of this year's title battle won the Cup.
That man was Tony Stewart, who was then crowned as a two-time champion while under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner. Driving the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet that year, he's since moved on to his own shop and fleet under the Stewart-Haas Racing liveries.
A man who controls his fate and successes, this season has perhaps been the most rewarding yet most frustrating for Stewart, having limped his way into the Chase before heating it up in the fall. Almost visually facile as flicking a light switch, the 40-year-old racer has truly scorched up his competition, scoring four wins (all during the postseason).
Then there's the tale of Carl Edwards, who's essentially played the role of the tortoise to Stewart's hare, although there's been nothing slow about the man who wheels the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion at any given Cup track. Sure, he's only got one victory, but he's not logged a DNF all season long, which pretty much translates to a driver and team that's been consistent in a sport that rewards steady performances.
He's tasted bitter defeat with title battles before, narrowly missing out on a Cup trophy in his first full campaign back in 2005 and again in '08, when his nine victories, 19 top-fives, and 27 top-10 finishes were not enough to beat Jimmie Johnson for the crown.
Perhaps learning a valuable lesson from that championship clash, he's been stout and determined in his quest to win the biggest prize of NASCAR racing. With his car owner Jack Roush having won two Cup titles, he's got the vast resources and knowledge to put up a fight against the surging Stewart.
Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was a taste of that heavyweight battle between these two titans, as they battled towards the finish for the race win. Ultimately, Stewart triumphed while Edwards settled for a runner-up effort.
Both drivers did their jobs, but in the case of Edwards, his second place finish decreased his points lead to a difference of only three markers.
Indeed, it's as slim as it sounds because that's the difference of three finishing positions in a single Cup race. Each driver's margin for error in the final two races is as minute as the difference between getting the pole and going home during qualifying sessions.
Which driver has the edge right now? If one were to base it off simply experience and talents, it'd have to easily go to Stewart for his two titles from 2002 and '05. Then again, Edwards is equally poised and skilled, although he's yet to be "numero uno" in the Cup division.
However, if there's anything past Chase battles have taught us, it's to expect the unexpected. After all, that happened in 2004 when Kurt Busch outran Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, the first year of this championship point system.