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Wed, 23 Nov 2011 04:03 PM EST

Carl Edwards played exactly ‘according to Hoyle’ in his pursuit of NASCAR’s championship, turning in a steady performance, salvaging solid finishes on days his race team was struggling, and standing firm in the face of Tony Stewart’s continual verbal battering. Football odds

In almost any other year—and all five in the Jimmie Johnson reign—he’d have awakened the day after the season finale a NASCAR champion.

But that didn’t happen this year. And nothing he might have done would have changed the outcome.

Edwards went round-for-round with Stewart in the fiercest fight for a title that NASCAR has ever seen, and lost. The two finished tied in the final Sprint Cup Series points standings—a first in NASCAR history—and Stewart took the tiebreaker based on his five victories to Edwards’ one. Football spreads

So even though he won the pole, led the most laps in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and finished second to Stewart, Edwards still went home without the prize.

If somebody had told Edwards a month ago that he’d complete the season with three second-place finishes in a row, and that he’d wrap up the 10-race Chase with a 4.9-average finish, he likely would have bet the house on his odds to walk away with the title.

But who could have foreseen that his rival for the championship, Tony Stewart, would transform himself into ‘Smoke’, the old Tony Stewart that had not been seen for years, the legendary fearless, almost reckless Tony Stewart that had a reputation of being able to do anything he wanted to in a race car? And especially after the season that he had prior to the final race.

Although his reputation preceded him, the reality is that Stewart hadn’t driven up to his potential for quite some time. That was apparent from the beginning of the season when he lost the Daytona 500 on the final restart. Eventually his team lost direction and he all but abandoned hope of being a serious contender in the championship race.

But something changed in the last six weeks. Stewart set his sights on a third championship, and decided that nothing would get in his way. And nothing did, certainly not Edwards.

After the race, a disappointed Edwards sat in Homestead’s media center watching Stewart’s championship celebration on a bank of televisions. He’d shaken Stewart’s hand, and he’d consoled crew chief Bob Osborne.

But Edwards himself? He didn’t pout. Rather, his conduct in the hours after the race showed just how to act with class and sportsmanship in the face of defeat.

Edwards knows he can’t dwell on the Chase. Even if he did second-guess the last 10 weeks, he’d be hard-pressed to find anything he could have done differently. Edwards talked of taking his family to the beach for the week after the race, of getting back into the gym and starting the process all over again for 2012, when he’ll try again to win his first Cup title.

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