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For Carl Edwards, 2011 Chase battle vs Tony Stewart ‘as good as it gets’

Ford 400

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 20: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, leads Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2011 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Getty Images for NASCAR

FRISCO, TEXAS - Even though it’s been five years, Carl Edwards says “people are afraid to bring it up.”

“It” is the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Man, I don’t know,” say Edwards, giving an impression of someone who has tiptoed around the subject.

That was the year Edwards and Tony Stewart entered the season finale with Stewart trailing Edwards by three points.

The night of Nov. 20 ended with the two tied in the points. But Stewart won the race, earning the tiebreaker to win the championship, the third of his historic NASCAR career.

Edwards, who finished second in the race, was the runner-up in the points for the second time in his career.

Sitting in a two-story party bus leased out by Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards says he has no hangups about his place in the story of the 2011 title chase.

“If I could have that battle every year, that would be my dream,” said Edwards, who is part of this year’s Chase, which continues this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We fought down to the last lap at Homestead, it was awesome. That was fun.”

Edwards entered the 2011 Chase with one win. Stewart had none and claimed he didn’t belong in the postseason. Stewart would win four Chase races to set up the tiebreaker scenario.

“Having that battle with Tony and knowing we made those guys win five of the 10 races to beat us and we still tied, that was pretty cool,” Edwards said. “To be able to battle Tony when he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s as tough as he could be, that was fun.”

The 2011 Chase wasn’t the first time Edwards fell short of Stewart for the title. In 2005, Stewart won his second title while Edwards tied for second with teammate Greg Biffle. The two experiences have taught Edwards a lesson.

“There was a chance we could have won it in 2005,” Edwards said. “At that time, I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll win it next year.’ It all happened so fast. Then in 2008 we were really close with Jimmie (Johnson). By 2011 I knew how valuable that was. How unique it was to be in that position, so I enjoyed the whole thing. Obviously I was really pissed we didn’t win. The ultimate let down. I was pretty sure we were going to win.”

Edwards is also sure if the 2011 finale were run 10 times, he and Stewart would split the difference.

“Hell, that battle is as good as it gets,” Edwards said. “It’s going to make the championship this year or next year or whenever we get one more special.”

Edwards, still looking for that title, won’t get a chance to replicate 2011 with Stewart, who was eliminated from the Chase last weekend. But with Stewart retiring from Sprint Cup racing at the end of the year, Edwards cherishes the role the three-time champion had in shaping his career.

“Growing up I paid a lot of attention to the USAC stuff and Tony was always so good at the USAC racing,” Edwards said. “It was really cool to see guys like him and Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kenny Irwin, these guys come out of the USAC cars, Silver Crown cars and go race these stock cars and be successful. For me, guys like Tony, they kind of paved my path a little bit. I ran in USAC cars and that gave me some credibility to go get in the Truck series with Mike Mittler (in 2002). I’m appreciative for what those guys have done and helped a lot of guys.”

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