Monday, November 21, 2011

Stewart Wins It All

Tony Stewart came into the Ford 400 trailing Carl Edwards by three points.  If Stewart won the race, he would win the championship, regardless of what Edwards did.  Carl Edwards and Bob Osbourne did everything they could possibly do; they led the most laps and had a dominant car.  But Stewart proved that the momentum he had could not be stopped.  Tony Stewart won the race, tied Edwards in the points, and won the championship via the tie-breaker (Stewart had 5 wins to Edwards' 1).

Tony Stewart celebrates with his crew (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 Tony Stewart's race to a championship did not go as smoothly as he would have hoped.  After the first caution, the No. 14 team had to fix a hole that was punched in Stewart's grille.  Stewart went from the Top 10 to 38th on the restart.  "They're going to feel like s--t when we kick their a-- after this," Stewart said over the team radio.  He eventually worked his way back up through the pack, only to be put back in the pack again after a lug nut got stuck during a pit stop.  Stewart made risky moves on every restart, and was able to move through the pack quickly once again.  On the final restart, Stewart quickly dispatched Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to take the lead.  From then on, he drove away from Carl Edwards to win the race and championship.  Stewart's win was so remarkable because he passed 118 cars for position during the race.

Stewart goes 4-wide en route to the win (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
The race was delayed for over an hour for a short rain storm.  But that did not stop Carl Edwards' dominance.  Edwards lead 119 of the scheduled 267 laps en route to his runner-up finish.  Edwards was perfect all day, but he could not overcome Stewart's sheer determination.  But Edwards showed class after losing the title in the final race; "We led the most laps, and Tony still managed, you know, him and Darian, to do a good job with their strategy.  That's all I had at the end.  That's as hard as I can drive.  I told my wife, if I can't win this thing, I'll be the best loser NASCAR has ever had, so I'm going to try very hard to keep my head up and know that we'll go next year and be just as hard to beat next year and just as hard the year after that."

Carl Edwards congratulates Tony Stewart during the cool-down lap (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
Tony Stewart has now solidified himself as one of the great NASCAR drivers.  Only eight other drivers have won three or more championships; Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt (7), Jimmie Johnson (5), Jeff Gordon (4), and Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Darrell Waltrip (3).  Stewart also became the first owner-driver to win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series since Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992. Tony Stewart is also the only person to win a Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, and Sprint Cup Series Trophy.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were not the only Chase drivers in the race.  Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon finished their seasons strong, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.  Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were eighth and ninth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman were 11th and 12th.  Brad Keselowski faded at the end of the race, and finished 20th.  Kyle Busch, who was leading the field coming to the final restart, finished 23rd.  Jimmie Johnson's Chase ended with a 32nd-place finish, solidifying the fact that his dynasty is over.  Kurt Busch lost his transmission early, and finished 34th.  Mark Martin, in his final race with Hendrick Motorsports, brought his Chevrolet home 24th.

A sign placed on Mark Martin's pit box from Hendrick Motorsports (Photo courtesy Kendra Jacobs)
The race was great, and the championship battle was even greater.  The race was filled with many "Game 7" moments.  Carl Edwards did all he could, but he could not defeat Stewart to win the championship.  The race ended the way it should have; the top two in points were the top two on the track.  The season is over, and Tony Stewart is our 2011 Sprint Cup Series Champion.  Tony Stewart's racing hero, A.J. Foyt, perhaps said it best - "He had to win it to win the championship.  I think Tony drove the best race of his life."

Champion (Photo courtesy Getty Images)

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