Stewart Winner and Champion
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on November 20, 2011 | 8:10 P.M. EST
"If this doesn’t go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don’t know what will." (Photo: Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Tony Stewart outran Carl Edwards to the checkered flag to win Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and clinch the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
In what will be remembered as one of NASCAR's most thrilling races and epic points championships, Stewart and Edwards tied for the lead on top of the standings after Sunday night's final race of the season. But by virtue of his five wins over the course of the season to Edwards lone victory, Stewart won the title in a tiebreaker.
The duo battled tooth and nail all night long rarely leaving each other's sight throughout the entire race with Stewart taking the checkered flag over Edwards by just over a second to win the race and the championship.
Stewart was forced to battle back from adversity a couple of times to score the win, first from a 15th starting position and then later after falling as far back as 40th when he was forced to pit road to repair damage to his front grille after hitting a piece of debris.
But he put on an incredible charge through the field and got to the front after a series of daring three and four wide passes to finally move back into the top spot and was able to stay ahead of Edwards for the dramatic victory.
"Are you kidding me?” Stewart said after claiming his third series championship. “We said all week we’d just go out and win the race and didn’t have to worry about what (Edwards) did. If this doesn’t go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don’t know what will.”
Stewart took the lead on a restart on lap 232 and fought his way through a wild battle with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for the spot. He stayed in front from there to drive to the historic victory.
The win was Stewart's 44th career Sprint Cup triumph and he became the seventh champion in NASCAR history to win the series finale. He became the first owner-driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
Stewart won his first championship in 2002 and second in 2005. The Indiana native now joins David Pearson, Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough – all NASCAR Hall of Fame members or inductees – as three-time champions. Nine drivers in NASCAR Sprint Cup history have won three or more championships.
"I can't thank (co-owner) Gene Haas and (general manager) Joe Custer enough for all this," Stewart said. "There are so many people that make this happen and the hard work and determination that goes on is what this is all about.
"It's the people you have that make the difference. They never gave up, they dug their heels in and fought like 'The Bad News Bears.'"
Crew chief Darian Grubb, who admitted in his post race media session he was told earlier in the Chase he would not be back with the team next year and said he was unsure of his future, praised Stewart's performance Sunday night.
"Tony is willing to go three and four wide when everybody else is just scared, and lifts," he said of his driver's bold moves on the race track that resulted in the victory.
Stewart passed 118 cars during his run to victory lane.
Edwards, who carried a three point lead over Stewart into the event, was left with wondering what might have been after coming up just short of his first career Sprint Cup championship.
"That's all I had at the end," said Edwards, who had an average finish of 4.9 in the Chase. "My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps and Tony still managed, you know, him and (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) do a good job with their strategy…and that's all I had at the end.
"That's as hard as I can drive, so 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 but I just hope everyone is proud of the way we performed and our effort."
Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five.
Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton completed the first ten finishers.
The race was slowed by eight caution flags for 54 laps as well as a red flag for rain that stopped the event for one hour and fifteen minutes.
There were 26 lead changes among fifteen drivers, a track record. A crowd of 73,000 was on hand to witness the final race of the 36 race season.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet will be held in Las Vegas on Friday night, December 2nd.