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NBC covets close finish

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2005

When NASCAR made the switch to the chase for the Nextel Cup format two years ago, Sunday's 4 p.m. season finale is what it envisioned.

Kind of.

Truth is, NASCAR, and for that matter NBC, still hasn't gotten exactly what it wants - a final race in which the top three drivers are separated by a handful of points.

While Tony Stewart has not wrapped up the championship, he is close enough that he need only do little better than finish the Ford 400 to capture his second Cup title.

NBC will treat the race from Homestead as if Stewart has other drivers nipping at his bumper, and probably hope that as the race unfolds, he does.

"For me as a broadcaster, this is the first time in my lifetime I've ever been able to do this," said NBC's Bill Weber, who will call the race. "I look at it as a career moment, and I'll have my eyes basically glued to three or four cars at one time.

"There's one goal here on Sunday and that's to win the championship, and when I get in that booth it's going to be hard for me to turn away my eyes from those four guys that are in it. So, BP (Benny Parsons), you watch the other 39 cars, okay?"

NBC plans to dedicate three cameras to the top three points-earners: Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards.

"We want to make sure we tell the whole story, and if one of the guys gets in a sort of incident where they're out of the race, we'd move that camera to the next person in line," producer Mike Wells said.

NBC could have a great cliffhanger on its hands, but Stewart has been too consistent to imagine anything but a top-10 finish. What that could mean, Weber says, are some risky chances (and great TV) by those pursuing him.

"They might have to gamble, they might have to go against logical thinking to put themselves in a position to get ahead of Tony," he said.

Stewart failing to win would be a dream scenario for those hoping for a few twists and turns, but his winning is also a story NBC says is significant.

Long considered one of the bad boys of the circuit, Stewart has been a model citizen all season.

"I guess it all started last fall when Tony had a meeting with the crew," Parsons said. "He said, "Fellas, anything you want - tell me what I need to do to change to make this better.' I think those guys said you really need to do this, you really need to do that, and at the same time he moved back to Columbus, Ind., his hometown where he grew up.

"I don't know who that guy is masquerading as Tony Stewart, but he's a different fella."

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