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Thu, 17 Nov 2011 11:28 AM EST

The final contest between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart couldn’t be any tighter. After nine races, 2,907 laps and 3,603 miles, a mere three points separate the two drivers with one race left in the NASCAR series finale. Basketball scores

In the run up to the most competitive and closely watched Chase in the playoff’s eight-year history, Edwards and Stewart both have been racing at the top of their game. A week after finishing 1-2 at Texas, they came home 2-3 at Phoenix International Raceway, with Edwards edging ahead of Stewart and Kasey Kahne beating them both, ending his 81-race winless streak.

The end result comes down to a winner-take-all showdown in this coming Sunday’s Ford 400, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida. If Edwards beats Stewart, he’s the champ; if Stewart finishes just three spots in front of Edwards, Stewart will walk away with the cup. For a sport that continues to struggle to create on-track excitement and drama, this final race is a fan’s dream come true and as good as it gets. NFL betting lines

How tight is the championship battle for the Chase to the Sprint Cup? Nine races in, they’ve each racked up the same number of points, with Edwards maintaining the lead due to a three-point bonus he received going in. Edwards could post a 4.9 average in the 10 Chase races (which would be the best average in the history of the playoff) and still lose, while Stewart could win four of 10 races and not come away with the cup.

None of the competitors knew how well they would race at Phoenix, due to a massive reconfiguration of the track and the radically changed conditions.

Stewart started eighth, Edwards ninth and the gap pretty much stayed that way for all 312 laps. The early advantage went to Stewart, who wheeled his car around Matt Kenseth in a daredevil move that, quite possibly, no other driver could have made without wrecking.

None of this bothered Edwards, who stayed in Stewart’s rearview mirror the entire time, exhibiting patience and a steady calm.

Eventually, Edwards’ opportunity came. On their second-to-last pit stop, Stewart’s team made an air-pressure adjustment on his tires that slowed his car. Edwards was there ready to take the lead, and he held it until he came down pit road for his final stop. That gave the lead to Kahne, who had pitted much earlier. On fresher tires for a longer period, Kahne had picked up enough time that he held a 1.7-second advantage on Edwards.

Kahne winning is hardly a surprise, since he has scored more points than everyone but Edwards and Stewart over the last nine races.

Homestead-Miami will mark the end of Jimmie Johnson’s five-year reign. The five-time defending champion was officially eliminated from contention at Phoenix.

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