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NASCAR: Stewart, Edwards exchange jabs

Associated Press
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. ó Itís very difficult to win a war of words with Tony Stewart, who uses quick wit and a sharp tongue to defeat anyone bold enough to go toe-to-toe with him.
Itís clearly been his strategy the last month with Carl Edwards, the Sprint Cup Series points leader and lone driver standing in Stewartís way of a third NASCAR championship. Whether it works or not wonít be determined until Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Edwards will take a three-point lead over Stewart into the season finale.
Edwards did his best to hang with Stewart on Thursday in their final joint news conference before the race. As the two heaped compliment after compliment on each other, they were finally asked if theyíd be so polite on the last lap with the championship on the line.
ěIíd wreck my mom to win a championship,î Stewart said. ěI respect him as a driver, but this isnít about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. Itís no holds barred this weekend. I didnít come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so weíre going to go for it.î
Edwards was unfazed and gamely tried to go after Stewart.
ěDid you say somethingî he asked.
ěYeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at (Las) Vegas,î Stewart replied.
ěHeís got the talking part figured out. Problem is, you havenít led the points yet this year, have you?î said Edwards, who has led the points for 21 weeks this year.
ěThey say thereís talkers and doers. Iíve done this twice,î Stewart replied in reference to his two championships.
ěThatís the funny thing. Iíve listened to you talk a lot today. Youíve talked a lot about your past successes. That is very respectable,î Edwards said.
And with that, he bowed out of the witty banter and got serious.
Edwards has been the most consistent driver this season, and that steadiness is all he needs to believe heís the man to beat in this title race. But itís Edwardsí first legitimate shot at a Sprint Cup title ó his 2007 title in the second-tier Nationwide Series was a runaway ó and heís bound to get nervous at some point, right?
Edwards insists he wonít be rattled and has studied Stewart the past several weeks to get a better understanding of what heís up against.
ěThereís a couple reasons that Iím not nervous about this, and theyíre personal reasons, theyíre reasons that maybe someday Iíll talk to you more about in depth,î he said. ěIím truly just excited about this. And it is interesting to me. Iíve learned a lot about Tony, the way he competes by what heís said. Iíve paid attention to what he says. I pay attention to the way he looks when he gets out of the race car, the body language he uses, things like that. Iíve learned a lot.î
But Stewart doesnít believe anything Edwards is saying, and said heís made his own observations and knows his rival is feeling the heat.
ěIíve seen what he looks like, what his guys look like. Iíve seen how our guys look. I know how I feel about it. Itís two totally different demeanors in the garage right now,î Stewart said. ěAll you have to do is walk around the garage and you can make that decision for yourself.
ěI think heís doing a pretty good acting job. I think heís a lot more nervous than he lets on. But heís got a lot of class and character and is a strong person. But I donít think heís as strong as he wants to lead everyone to believe.î
Stewart, seeking to become the first driver/owner since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 to win the championship, came to Florida immediately after Sundayís race at Phoenix for a string of sponsor appearances. He was unshaven and tan at Thursdayís news conference, where he smiled and laughed through the 20-plus minutes of questioning.
Edwards, who had a quiet week at home in Missouri with his family, wasnít as loose. He smiled, he made some jokes, but he seemed to grow agitated as Stewartís verbal jabs continued. And when Stewart was asked if heís talked recently to good friend A.J. Foyt ó he responded ěIíve not talked to Foyt. Heíll call me after we win on Sunday,î ó Edwards seemed to clench his jaw.
NASCAR couldnít have asked for anything more from this championship race, the closest since the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format was introduced in 2004. NASCAR chairman Brian France said he wanted ěGame 7 momentsî when he hinted heíd tweak the Chase, which this year went to a 43-to-1 points system over its decades-old convoluted scoring system.
France got what he wanted, with two heavyweights taking it down to the wire Sunday.
ěI think itís proven to be a pretty good system so far,î Stewart said. ěYou have two guys within three points of each other going into the last race. I donít know how you can say itís bad.î

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