MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Smoke's victory carried a warning.
The next three weeks aren't going to be easy, Carl Edwards.
Tony "Smoke" Stewart won his third race in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, climbing two spots to second in the standings behind the leader Edwards.
Stewart will be only eight points off the lead when the premier stock car series comes to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the AAA Texas 500.
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"He better be worried. That's all I gotta say," Stewart said into the told TV cameras after his third career victory on the Martinsville half-mile. "He's not going to have an easy three weeks."
But Edwards was in too good a mood to worry about that. He's still the points leader, and that was all he wanted out of Martinsville's typically bruising stop.
"He's wound up. He won the race," Edwards said of Stewart, drawing laughs from reporters. "We'll see what happens at Texas. We have as a good a shot as anyone there. This track is really hard for me."
Edwards finished ninth (only his sixth top-10 finish in 15 races here) and kept the points lead, although he lost six points off it.
"They're going to have to beat us," Edwards told ESPN about Stewart's message. "We go to Texas, where I believe their team has run as well as our team on the big mile-and-a-halfs, but then there's the big unknown of Phoenix, and Homestead could not be a better track for us."
Matt Kenseth, who entered the race in second place just 14 points behind Edwards, watched his championship hopes take a big nose dive. A crash with 35 laps damaged the back of his car, and he went off the track for more than 20 laps.
He was six points behind Edwards when he locked his brakes and crashed, and now he's 36 back and in fifth place.
Jeff Gordon finished third after leading 113 laps, Kevin Harvick was fourth, gaining two spots to third place (21 points back), and Denny Hamlin was fifth.
"I don't think we had the best race car today by any means," Stewart said. "But I had the most determined crew to get it if we could get it."
Stewart outhustled Jimmie Johnson in a restart with three laps to go, working the outside lane like a master as he pinned Johnson to the curb. He came off with all the momentum he needed for the final lap and a half, leaving Johnson shaking his head.
"All the cautions at the end just weren't what we needed," Johnson said. "I just saw Tony in Victory Lane, and he said he saw something on the outside lane and was drooling to start out there. He certainly made it work at the end."
Stewart spent the middle third of the race complaining about his car. He was 19th on Lap 178 and 21st on Lap 242, just before the halfway point. He wasn't much better as the race entered its final 200 laps, and with 152 to go, he was close to going a lap down.
But a caution saved him, and he began climbing, reaching 13th with 106 laps to go. Another caution, with 88 laps to go, sent him off pit road in second place, but he felt a tire go low as he battled Harvick for the lead on the restart.
He pitted, came out 23rd, and then got another caution. Kenseth had locked up his brakes, and Stewart got back in the top three.
From there, he held his track position through one more caution, and then won with his restart.
"My first thought was, I was worried about being on the outside on the restart," Stewart said. "But then I remembered that I had had a really good run. I just wanted to be beside him so he couldn't push me up the track."
And now, the wide-open spaces of Texas await.
Edwards has won at TMS. So has Stewart.
"Now we go to Texas," Edwards said. "I'm really excited about Texas."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407