That would require us to forget about Carl Edwards, though -- something to which the young Roush Racing driver is not receptive. In fact, to ensure he no longer remained in the background of the title talk, Edwards went out and posted a 176.051-mph lap to win the pole position for Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If he can hold onto that position for just one circuit, he'll have five precious, and sometimes elusive, bonus points in the bag -- a huge help in his attempt to close the 87-point gap between him and points leader Stewart.
Edwards is clear about this much, though: Starting up front is great; finishing up front is the real goal.
"I really don't have any option other than just go out and try to lead the most laps and win the race," he said. "I can't control how well those other guys run. If we had a lead, it would be different. I think in Tony's position, he's probably gonna be very aware of where he can run and still win the championship. But anything other than winning this race on Sunday is honestly gonna be a disappointment.
"I mean, we have to go out and do this. If we can leave here on Sunday with a victory and a good performance on our part, we're gonna be happy no matter what."
Stewart and his No. 20 Chevy team know full well that their driver is capable of racing a clean race. That shifts the focus of ensuring a finish of ninth or better on the crew and, really, on the car.
That's why Stewart's team is going to old reliable: chassis No. 83. This particular car has raced 15 times and finished better than ninth in 10 of those tries. Even better, it's logged three victories -- including Stewart's Brickyard 400 win.
Rusty Wallace, winner of 55 races and one Cup title, will race his last race on Sunday. And while he's looking forward to the pomp and circumstance the speedway has planned as a tribute for the racing legend, he says he's more focused on leaving a proper legacy behind. He wants to go out like Ted Williams or Michael Jordan (the first time).
"The bottom line is that we do have this one race left and we intend to make the best of it," Wallace said. "We want the fans to be able to look back years from now and say, 'Hey, ol' Rusty Wallace was right there battling for the win all the way to the end.'"
Wallace said he's positive he can make it happen. His test went well at Miami and his team has become more and more consistent at 1.5-mile tracks. And he dispenses with any notion that his emotions might get in the way.
"When we fire the engines, I'll guarantee you that it'll be business as usual," he said. "There's nothing I'd like better to win in my last race. We've been on top of our game this year. We made the Chase and have had a bunch of top-five and top-10 finishes. It would be really cool to go out a winner. That's something that everyone would always remember."
Jeff Gordon and his new No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team have had nine races to work toward next season, watching the Chase from the outside looking in while trying to build chemistry with a new crew chief and other personnel.
Gordon says the trial period has been educational. He cautions that nobody will know whether things are going to work out until Daytona Speedweeks in February, but all of the signs are positive thus far. After all, he's moved from 17th to 11th in the last four races.
"I always look at the positive of everything," Gordon said. "You know, with us not being in the Chase, it puts us in the mindset of working for next year. Helps you get prepared for next year. It doesn't really do anything for Daytona next year, it's just mainly for tracks and speedway and mile and a halfs and building the chemistry and the confidence of the team to give us something to build on in the offseason."
Kyle Busch acknowledged Saturday that he made
a mistake last week when he stormed out of a post-race interview
following his victory at Phoenix.
Busch had said that media reports regarding his older brother's
run-in with police were untrue. When asked exactly what was false,
the younger Busch said, "I'm not going there. That was a really,
really inappropriate question."
Busch returned about 20 minutes later and answered questions.
"I made a mistake and I realize that," Busch said Saturday. "Everything that was said was said during a high-emotion time. I
know I have the opportunity of a lifetime here, and I don't want to
screw it up any."
Robbie Reiser, crew chief for the No. 17 Ford
driven by Matt Kenseth, mourned the loss of his father.
John Reiser died Saturday after battling cancer for several
months. He was 67. The elder Reiser raced in Wisconsin from 1958-76
and won the state's late model, dirt track championship in 1972. He
also served as general manager for Roush Racing's Busch and
Craftsman Truck Series race shops through May, overseeing five
"John was a special and talented racer," Jack Roush said. "He
taught and touched all members of the Roush Racing organization."
Former Champ Car champion Paul Tracy worked the
garage area Saturday, talking to NASCAR owners about trying to
secure a ride for the future.
"I want to give this a try. I've made no secret about that,"
said Tracy, who lives in Florida. "My ideal situation would be to
run about 10 to 12 races next season, and I'm out here trying to
make it happen. The biggest thing for me is to get into a good car.
I can't waste my time with a bad ride."
Tracy tested with Richard Childress Racing earlier this year
with the possibility of racing for the team at Michigan in August.
"There's just too much going on," Tracy said, explaining why
it didn't work out. "There was just too much to work something out
Mark Martin and Todd Bodine were busy drivers
Saturday. They drove in the Craftsman Truck Series season-ending
race in the morning, followed by Busch Series qualifying and Nextel
They ended the day with the Busch race.
"We've got a bunch of iron men here, so I don't think it will
be a problem," Martin said. "I'm used to running 500 miles on
Sunday, and the truck and Busch races are shorter than that, so I
don't see it being an issue."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.