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NASCAR Phoenix Race Today Could Be Deciding Factor In Championship

It can be argued that although Denny Hamlin had the Chase points lead heading into Homestead last season, he actually lost the championship at Phoenix.

One year ago, Hamlin was dominating Phoenix with a chance to end Jimmie Johnson's reign if he had a solid finish. Instead, Hamlin's team messed up the fuel strategy, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver lost valuable points.

He should have left Phoenix with a 70-point lead, but instead was up by just 15. And so by the time he arrived in Homestead, he was virtually defeated.

With only two races remaining in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Tony Stewart and Chase leader Carl Edwards could face a similar situation in today's Phoenix race.

The season finale next week could be a virtual wash – Edwards is NASCAR's best driver at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Stewart has been great lately on 1.5-mile tracks as well (see: Chicagoland, Texas).

In that case, if the championship is to be won or lost, the Phoenix race may be where it happens.

"Anything can happen at Homestead still – five (laps) to go and some guys take tires and some don't or something like that – but I think this track is probably the one that will separate us if it is going to happen," Edwards said Friday.

Said Stewart: "I guess I'm not really worried about it as much as I'm worried about getting through this weekend."

Anyway, it's worth keeping in mind while you're watching today's race.