Tony Stewart got what he wanted.
So did NASCAR.
The gruff, plain-talking driver from Indiana tightened up the Chase for the Sprint Cup to nearly a whisker, winning the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and setting up a tantalizing two-race sprint to the end of the season.
Stewart sliced five points off the eight-point lead Carl Edwards carried into Sunday's race, taking the maximum 48 -- 43 for first place, a bonus of three for winning, one for leading a lap and one for leading the most laps.
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"We're set on it, man," Stewart said. "This is just the way it's going to be.... Do not count us out of this thing, I tell you that. We did everything we could today."
Edwards' second-place finish allowed him to absorb most of the damage and keep the points lead, but he has no doubt about how fast Stewart is closing on him.
"Maybe I'll have to bring him some lunch," Edwards said, joking with reporters after the race. "I hope this roll he's on doesn't last the next two weeks. Otherwise, it's going to be really tough."
It was Stewart's fourth victory in the eight races so far in NASCAR's 10-race Sprint Cup "playoffs," the format created seven years ago to heighten interest in stock car racing's season-ending races.
"This is the perfect scenario, the perfect storm, going into the last two weeks," Stewart said. "It's what you want. Two guys, three points, two weeks to go."
The series heads to Phoenix and its repaved track next week, then crowns its champion the following week at Miami.
"Tony thinks he's the guy right now, and the guy he's going against thinks he's the guy," said Kasey Kahne, whose third-place finish gave him five top-5s in six weeks. "So it's going to be a battle to the end. Both have a lot of confidence, and both are strong. I'd rather be in the Chase, but not being in the Chase, it's pretty fun to sit there and watch."
Stewart promised two weekends ago after his victory at Martinsville that Edwards "had better be worried" because the next three "weren't going to be easy."
Stewart now has gained ground each of the last three weeks on Edwards, who has been at the top of the standings since finishing fifth at Kansas five weeks ago.
"Now we've got to pull out all the stops these last two races," Edwards said. "Folks ought to stay tuned. It's going to be exciting."
There wasn't much question it was going to be either Stewart or Edwards to the finish line first in Sunday's race. They were running ninth and 10th late in the race, but the eight drivers ahead of them were scheduled to pit.
Jeff Burton, winless on the season, decided not to head in, and he had more than a six-second lead going into the final 10 laps. But he lost his gamble when he ran out of gas with four laps to go.
That opened the door for Stewart, who had emerged ahead of Edwards from their round of pit stops, to take the lead and pick up three big bonus points for winning.
"I never cheered so hard for Jeff Burton in my life," Edwards said. "If I could have loaned him some fuel, I would have."
Stewart won with a track-record average speed of 152.707, another victory of sorts as the previous record of 151.055 belonged to Edwards, set in his November 2005 victory.
It was a fast race, with a record 110 green-flag laps to start, and Stewart and Edwards each ran textbook races. Edwards was a little slower because he was looser in the middle of the race, but at the end he had a chance to win, too.
"We're not counting on them to make mistakes," Stewart said. "We're controlling our destiny, and today's a perfect example of that. We raced our race today. We didn't do anything worrying about what they were doing. We just ran our race."
Plain and simple.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407