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Kasey Kahne wins at Phoenix, but overall lead still belongs to Carl Edwards

The victory in the Kobalt Tools 500 ends the driver's winless streak at 81 races. Edwards finishes second and maintains a three-point lead over Tony Stewart in the Chase for the Sprint Cup title with one race to go.

November 13, 2011|By Jim Peltz
  • Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart speak during a press conference following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.
Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart speak during a press conference following… (Todd Warshaw / Getty Images )

Reporting from Avondale, Ariz. -- Looking at the last two races of the season, Carl Edwards figured that if his tight battle with Tony Stewart for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title was going to shift toward one driver or the other, it would happen at Phoenix.

With a newly repaved surface, Edwards said, that one-mile track "is probably the one that will separate us if it is going to happen."

Not a chance.

Edwards took the green flag Sunday with a three-point lead over Stewart at Phoenix International Raceway and took the checkered flag 312 laps later with the same lead.

Kasey Kahne won the Kobalt Tools 500 to end a winless streak at 81 races. But Edwards finished second and Stewart third, so they head to the season finale, at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on Sunday, to determine the champion in a one-race shootout.

It's the closest championship fight since NASCAR implemented the 10-race Chase format in 2004, and "it's neat to go to Homestead and race it out," Edwards said.

All of the other 10 drivers in the Chase, including reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, were eliminated from contention. Johnson finished 14th in the race.

Edwards and Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, have two victories each at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami oval.

"There could be nothing better than coming down the last lap, side by side, racing for the win," Edwards said.

For much of Sunday's race, it appeared that scenario was unfolding at Phoenix.

Stewart led a race-high 160 laps in his No. 14 Chevrolet, but he and Edwards followed each other for much of the race and swapped the lead several times.

Edwards, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing, was leading late in the race when he was forced to pit his No. 99 Ford for fuel, enabling Kahne to inherit the lead.

Before that, Kurt Busch had the lead, but Busch's Penske Racing Dodge ran out of fuel. And after reaching the pits, Busch couldn't immediately start the car in his pit box and finished 22nd.

"It was just an incredible turn of events," Busch said. "I loved our chance to win."

Stewart, 40, has won four of the nine Chase races so far for the Stewart-Haas Racing team he co-owns.

"We have a third and two wins in the last three races, so we're going to keep the pressure on [Edwards] and make him sweat it out," he said.

"It's a dead heat" going into the season's last race. "I'm pumped up."

Kahne, who's not in the Chase, said he has enjoyed watching the drivers battle in recent weeks.

"They've put on a great show," Kahne said. "Its pretty impressive what those two have done."

Kahne's victory in his No. 4 Toyota was his first since he won at Atlanta in 2009, and only the second for the Red Bull team since it joined the Cup series in 2007.

The win also came just before Kahne is due to leave Red Bull for the powerful Hendrick Motorsports team next season, and the same time Red Bull plans to sell all or part of the team after this season ends.

Despite that turmoil, "the guys haven't given up," Kahne said of his team, and "I just wanted to win for them really bad before the switch."

This was the first Cup race since the 47-year-old Phoenix track was repaved and slightly reconfigured, changes that left the drivers uncertain about how their cars would handle.

Much of the racing was single-file, but Edwards said the "groove" of rubber on the pavement grew to be wide enough for drivers to pass, and Stewart was among those able to pass on the outside lane.

"It moved out, the groove did; it got wider and wider," Edwards said. "It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be."

james.peltz@latimes.com

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