At the Victory Lane celebration two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, track president Eddie Gossage remembers how exhausted Tony Stewart was.
Stewart had just taken the checkered flag of the AAA Texas 500 to pull within three points of championship leader Carl Edwards, and Stewart didn't have much energy left.
Gossage sat Stewart down, gave him some water and a few minutes to recuperate.
"Tony said, 'I've never raced so hard from green flag to checkered flag,'" Gossage said. "It's amazing what [he] and Carl are doing, trying to score maximum points and trying to win every race. They're leaving it all out there."
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That is what has made this year's Chase one of the most memorable in recent history. For years, NASCAR has tweaked its points system to try to build for the type of finish that is now unfolding.
But, as Gossage said, the new points system isn't the reason behind the closest chase in more than 20 years. It's Edwards and Stewart.
The two drivers will go for it all at Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Edwards takes his slim three-point lead into the race, which has a Super Bowl-like feel to it.
"It's the best points battle I've been a part of at this level, so it's fun for me," Edwards said after finishing second at Phoenix last weekend. "I still don't understand why we're both running so good. It's pretty neat. Seems like subconsciously we're both able to dig down and our teams are able to give us what we need, and everybody has been performing at a high level. It's been neat that this battle has brought out the best in us."
Edwards has been atop the points standings for seven weeks, finished second the past two and has placed in the top 10 in all but one Chase race.
Stewart, meanwhile, won back-to-back races at Martinsville and Texas to put himself in contention, and then finished third last week at Phoenix. Just five weeks ago, after the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, Stewart was in fifth, 24 points behind Edwards.
"He's keeping me honest, I'm keeping him honest," Stewart said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a dead heat going into Homestead. We just got to do our job like we've been doing."
So who has the edge at Homestead?
Recent history would suggest Edwards, the defending champion. Edwards also won in 2008, and his worst finish is 14th in 2004, his first Sprint Cup race at the track.
"The cool thing about Homestead is we are going to go there and you will be able to move around and pass and you won't get hung up as badly in traffic as you would at other racetracks," Edwards said.
Stewart won back-to-back races at the track in 1999 and 2000, but has only one top-five finish since then. In his past five races at Homestead, Stewart has an average finish of 16.8.
Stewart said the key to his success would be handling the banking, and knowing when to use the brake and when to push it through Turns 1 and 3.
"As soon as your car settles in [to the bank], you can really just mash right back in the gas," Stewart said.
Stewart is eyeing his third championship, while Edwards is hoping to get his first.
The tight title race has been the buzz in the garages, too, and drivers have picked their winner -- similar to football players before the Super Bowl.
"It's anybody's race," Martin Truex Jr. said. "Based on prior seasons, I would have to go with Carl, just because of the way he ran there last year."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going with Stewart, citing his allegiance to Chevrolet drivers.
It's what NASCAR has wanted. As Gossage said: "It's coming down to a real slugfest between two of the biggest names in the sport, and it's already been a wild ride. This is what it's all about."
Follow Drew Davison on Twitter @drewdavison.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760