For five-straight years we have seen Jimmie Johnson hoist the championship trophy in NASCAR’s most elite series, but that is not the case in 2011, as Tony Stewart overcame much adversity to win his third career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The Ford 400 was everything it was thought to be, that was to have a race to the finish that would later decide a future champion in the sport that we all love.
Carl Edwards, who had a three-point lead heading into the final race, started on the pole for Sunday’s event, as most thought he would clearly be the driver to beat. The driver he was ‘fighting’ off, Stewart, started fifteenth at a track where has hasn’t been successful at in season’s past.
It had been over 10-years since Stewart won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, while it had only been one for Edwards. Personally, I was with most as I predicted Edwards to win both the Ford 400 and the championship all in one-day, but that was not the case.
Things didn’t start off well for Stewart, as a ‘huge’ hole formed in his front grille, which caused him to have to pit several times during the first caution. As if that wasn’t enough trouble, Stewart restarted 40th.
While losing all of that track position, Stewart battled back once the green flag fell, gaining about 12-spots in five laps.
“They are really going to feel like s#it when we battle back from the rear,” said Stewart.
Stewart would later have to pit again, adding duct tape to the front of his car to help out the aerodynamics.
Stewart then jokingly said, “They are really going to feel like s#it AGAIN, when we battle back from the rear twice.”
We soon found out Stewart would be right, as he once again stormed through the field, gaining over 10-spots in just a few laps.
What impressed me more than anything, the determination by Stewart. It has been a long time since we have seen a driver drive without fear with only one goal in mind, the championship. The driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet drove four-wide several times, hoping to accelerate through the field at a rapid pace.
“Thank the Lord for this one, buddy,” said Stewart.
“It’s been a tough Summer and tough Fall for us, and you got to believe in something and the man upstairs held this rain off just long enough for us to get this job done.”
As rain was a factor all weekend, so was ‘fuel’. With about 60-laps to go, Edwards decided to pit, with the help of Bob Osborne (crew chief for the No. 99), for 2-tires and fuel. Stewart, altering his strategy with the help of Darian Grubb (crew chief for the No. 14), decided to stay out and lead a few laps.
Just a few laps later, Stewart pitted for 4-tires and fuel, just before the rain started to fall. At the time, he was told he could make it to the end on fuel with about five-laps to spare.
If it weren’t for those caution laps, Edwards would have been forced to come in and pit for extra fuel since he was several laps short on his run. Luckily, Edwards was able to save enough to put him three-laps over on fuel.
It was a tough defeat for Edwards, as he had lead the points throughout the entire Chase.
“I just have to say congratulations to Tony. 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,” said Edwards.
Carl Edwards was the first to congratulate Stewart at the end of the race, which meant a lot to Stewart.
“He’s a great competitor and a great guy, and we have been giving him a tough time this week, but it’s all in an effort to do what we did tonight.”
“He (Edwards) was the first one to me, he just said, ‘Promise me one thing, go enjoy this. I just hope it’s you and I in this position next year’, it just shows how much class he’s got. He’s a great guy,” Stewart said in a post-race interview with ESPN.
Needless to say, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is shaping up to be just as crazy, if not crazier than 2011.
Possible Future Storylines: Whether or not Darian Grubb will return as crew chief for Tony Stewart. Jimmie Johnson suffers fall, but can he return for 2012? Roush Fenway Racing has an awesome year, looks to continue for 2012.
1. Tony Stewart
2. Carl Edwards
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Kasey Kahne
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Jeff Burton
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12. Ryan Newman
13. Regan Smith
14. Jamie McMurray
15. A.J. Allmendinger
16. Paul Menard
17. Brian Vickers
18. David Reutimann
19. Joey Logano
20. Brad Keselowski
21. Mike Bliss
22. Travis Kvapil
23. Kyle Busch
24. Mark Martin
25. Trevor Bayne
26. Casey Mears
27. Bobby Labonte
28. Dave Blaney
29. T.J. Bell
30. Geoffrey Bodine
31. Juan Pablo Montoya
32. Jimmie Johnson
33. David Gilliland
34. Kurt Busch
35. Greg Biffle
36. Landon Cassill
37. Cole Whitt
38. David Ragan
39. Marcos Ambrose
40. Joe Nemechek
41. J.J. Yeley
42. David Stremme
43. Michael McDowell
Next Up: Bud Shootout (Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 2012)