Winning Makes Difference For Stewart
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR finally got the Chase it has always wanted — a championship decided by a driver winning the final race of the season. Tony Stewart delivered by scoring his fifth victory in the 10 races in the Chase by defeating Edwards by 1.306 seconds in Sunday night’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The victory gave Stewart his third NASCAR Cup title.
Even by winning the race, Stewart and Edwards finished in a points tie. Stewart won his third Sprint Cup title based on tiebreaker — five wins to Edwards’ one. The five wins in the Chase is a NASCAR record since this 10-race format was implemented in 2004.
Stewart had to overcome early-race adversity when debris knocked a huge hole in the front grille of his Chevrolet which sent him to the back of the field while repairs were made to the damage. After that was fixed he ran into the back of David Reutimann’s Toyota, causing more damage to his race car which once again sent it to the back of the field.
Stewart was so confident that he could overcome the adversity that he radioed to his crew, “This is going to make it that much more satisfying when we come back and kick his (Edwards) ass.”
Stewart passed 118 cars in Sunday’s race including some daring moves going three-wide and even four-wide in his spectacular drive through the field.
“That shows how bad I wanted to win this thing,” Stewart said. “During the season you give guys a little more room than that, but when you are going for a championship, you can’t hold anything back. I was racing around good guys when I did that all night and we just could not leave it on the table, we had to go on the restarts. That was a strong suit for us all night. We took off that one restart I think 12th and came off the corner fifth or sixth on the outside. It is just an awesome night when your car drives that good and you can go get it done like that.”
It was a heartbreaking ended for Edwards, a driver who Stewart was never able to actually pass in the points as the two drivers were tied. But Stewart’s stunning performance in the Chase when he won half of the 10 races gave the driver from Columbus, Ind., the edge over the driver from Columbia, Mo., in the tiebreaker.
Edwards handled the disappointment with tremendous class.
“I drove to the edge and beyond and that is all I had,” Edwards said. “We knew of all the circumstances that could have happened this one was the least probable outcome. I was going to walk back to that motor home win, lose or draw and be the best example to my kids. As painful as this is right now we are fortunate to go to Daytona and start over again and go race.
“I wish I could do this every day. If there weren’t any pressure there wouldn’t be any diamonds. That’s what my trainer says. Although we didn’t get the outcome we wanted we will be better for it. You don’t get lessons like this every day.”
Stewart’s adds the 2011 Cup title to the Winston Cup title he won in 2002 under the old points system and the Sprint Cup championship in 2005. By winning his third title he is the ninth driver to win three or more championships. The other drivers with three are Darrell Waltrip, Lee Petty, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson. Jeff Gordon has four championships, Jimmie Johnson five with the late Dale Earnhardt and the legendary Richard Petty tied with seven championships apiece.
Stewart was the last driver to win the championship before Johnson’s record-breaking streak of five Cup titles and the first driver to win a Cup title since Johnson.
“It is an honor, that is an impressive group to be with and just an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of that with those guys,” Stewart said. “I’m just very proud to have got a group of guys that believed in us when we started and Office Depot is the first company and then to have Mobil 1 to come on board this year, just truly, truly an honor to be here with these guys.”
Stewart’s Chevrolet carries the car number 14 of his hero, A.J. Foyt – the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 who is considered to be the greatest American race driver in history because of his ability to win in so many different types of race cars.
“I guarantee you I’ll probably talk to him tonight and he’s still going to tell me what I did wrong today,” Stewart said. “But I’m so proud. A.J. has always been one of my heroes and he’s been very supportive of this when we did this. When I asked him if it would be all right if I took his number, he was the one who gave me his blessing and it meant the world to me.”
Foyt was proud of his protégé’s accomplishment.
“It was a great race; I was a little worried in the beginning because it seemed like something happened to Tony every time he got in the front,” Foyt said. “He had to win it to win the championship and I think Tony drove the best race of his life. It was great to see the 14 win again. I’m real proud of him.”
Edwards led six times for 119 laps — the most in the race. Stewart was in front four times for 65 laps including the final 36.
“After the way those first 109 laps went today, I could not be more proud,” Stewart said. “We had the problem early and had the hole in the nose, everybody on this Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy team did a great job of getting it back going, then we had the contact with (David) Reutimann and had to come back in and fix it again. I told them “Man, it is really going to make these guys mad when we come back twice and still kick their butt”. It was optimism and trying to keep the guys pumped up and then to come out here and actually do it, is awesome. It is an honor to be in the same category with Alan Kulwicki, but Alan did it all on his own and I have a great co-owner with Gene Haas and Joe Custer helped put all this together with Rick Hendrick and Just could not be more proud of our guys and our organization. Everybody Ryan Newman, my teammate, everybody on the US Army/ Tornados Chevy just an honor to be here tonight.”
The championship was so close because Stewart had an average finish in the Chase of 6.3 while Edwards’s average was a Chase record 4.9.
It all came down to winning races and nobody did that better this year than the former IndyCar driver from the Hoosier State.
“I made sure that if we got in traffic that I had a little something in my back pocket to go with,” Stewart said once he took the lead. “We took care of it, we knew he was going to have to run hard to catch us and going to have to abuse his tires and if we just ran our pace, when we got to traffic or if he closed in anymore that we could go when we needed to.”
Stewart is the first owner/driver to win the Cup title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
“Alan did it all on his own but I have a great team owner in Gene Haas,” Stewart said.
The race was affected by rain with three cautions and one red flag that stopped the race for 1 hour, 14 minutes and 6 seconds.
After the engines were refired and several drivers made pit stops Kevin Harvick was in front of Jeff Gordon, points leader Edwards and Stewart. When the green flag dropped Stewart blasted up to second place behind Harvick as Edwards’ Ford began to drop back. Stewart was able to race his way to the front of the field to take the lead on lap 123.
Trevor Bayne got into the wall on lap 135 for a yellow flag and that sent the contenders into the pits. Stewart
When the green flag waved on lap 147 Stewart passed four cars in one move and was up to third place on lap 148. Stewart passed Truex for the lead on lap 152 shouting into the radio. But his time at the front came to an end when Landon Cassill, Trevor Bayne and Cole Witt crashed on the backstretch on lap 154. Cassill got nudged by Jamie McMurray coming out of the second turn.
Stewart pitted during the caution but a lug nut got caught in the air gun while changing the right rear wheel during his pit stop dropped him all the way back to 12th place. The green flag waved on lap 160 and Stewart went to high side to fight his way through traffic. He even nudged the back of Edwards’ Ford on the backstretch as he drove his way to fourth place.
Stewart moved into second place on lap 182 just behind the leader, Edwards, with 85 laps to go. Edwards pitted with 66 laps to go while leading to change four tires. Meantime Stewart was attempting to save fuel while leading the race.
Stewart pitted with 57 laps to go stretching the fuel mileage to where the engine started to sputter. The crew changed four tires and filled it full of fuel which put Edwards back in the lead and Stewart back to 14th place before it started to rain. The yellow flag waved to slow field for 17 laps.
The green flag waved with 37 laps to go with Stewart third. He went three wide to take the lead briefly but Keselowski would not give in. Finally, Stewart took the lead with 36 to go. Edwards was third just behind Keselowski. Edwards would pass Keselowski for second place with 33 to go setting his sights on Stewart’s Chevrolet.
But there was nothing he could do to catch the champion’s Chevrolet leaving Edwards dealing with the disappointment afterwards.
“I just have to say congratulations to Tony,” Edwards said. “Those guys earned it. They won half the races in the Chase and he is the champion and did a good job. My guys did a great job. We pushed him to the end and that is all I got. That is as hard as I can drive. I think it is really important to give Tony the credit. Those guys did a good job. That is everything I’ve got. I will go home and work harder for next year and be back and make it just as hard on them, hopefully harder.
“Thank you for making this fun.”
It was undoubtedly one of the best — if not the best — championship finish in NASCAR history as NASCAR grand dream finally came true.