MIAMI - Tony Stewart's body language and wardrobe pretty much summed up not only his mood but his position with one race left to decide the NASCAR Nextel Cup champion.
Decidedly more casual than the three men with a mathematical shot of overtaking him Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart wore an untucked sponsor shirt, black sneakers, white "No Fear" socks and sparse gel in his mussed, highlighted hair. While Jimmie Johnson, who is 52 points behind, Carl Edwards (87) and Greg Biffle (102) sat straight-backed on stage for a made-for-television Chase for the Championship news conference, Stewart threw an arm over the back of his director's chair, exchanged un-PC barbs with the moderator, and at one point proclaimed "the kid" - that being Edwards, 26 - could field a particular question for him.
Stewart, 34, isn't declaring his second championship since 2002 a done deal, but he certainly feels good about where he is, both statistically and professionally. He has 19 top 10s in the past 21 races and the series lead in wins (five, tied with Biffle), top fives (17) top 10s (25) and laps led (1,845). And he only needs to finish ninth or better to guarantee the title.
"Doesn't get more relaxing than this," Stewart said, looking over the deck of the hotel. "We've been fed today, ready for a nap. This isn't the first time we've all been in this situation. Just another day in paradise."
THE KID: Edwards, a refreshing newcomer and a surprise contender in his first full Nextel Cup season, can't help but feel like a wedding crasher. But consecutive wins at Atlanta and Texas have given him an outside shot at becoming a privileged insider.
"To be honest with you, me personally, I don't feel like I should be here," said Edwards, who like Biffle drives for Roush Racing. "I feel like there's a lot more guys in this sport who have paid a lot more dues and who on average have run better at a lot of tracks.
"We haven't been very good on road courses; we haven't been very good on short tracks. But our luck has been such that we've ended up running just well enough, and we haven't had any bad luck at the races that we do run well at."
READY TO GO: The speedway has been completely repaired, track president Curtis Gray said, after sustaining major damage to a catch fence and 12 light poles from Hurricane Wilma on Oct. 24. Most of the damage occurred when a quarter-mile-long section of garage suites wes lifted off its moorings and tossed about the facility. "With the resources we got from Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway," he said of fellow International Speedway Corp. tracks, "we are fine."
COME BACK: Biffle nearly missed his ride to the news conference when a helicopter pilot left him behind at the track. The pilot was told there would be four passengers - the drivers - and took off when an unexpected fourth beat Biffle to the pad. The pilot circled back to scoop him up.