There is no way that anyone could have written a better script for a NASCAR race than what was seen on Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. We knew four weeks ago that a gauntlet was thrown down, but another gauntlet was put down long before the Chase ever started.
When the Chase began at Chicagoland, the No. 14 team of Tony Stewart had no wins to their credit, and Stewart admitted he didn’t think that he was a contender for the title in any shape, stating that the team was lucky to be there.
It seems like that statement was a wake-up call for the entire organization, as immediately afterward this team went to work.
First came the win at Chicagoland, then a follow-up at New Hampshire. A struggle at Dover was followed up by a comeback run at Kansas, along with another solid performance at Charlotte, and the survival of Talladega.
But then, the race where things changed. All the while, Carl Edwards had the points lead and made it clear he was going for the championship, and was ready for all challengers. Well, little did he know that the contender he would face off with would be the one that originally was considered lucky to be there, by his own admission.
The victory at Martinsville was capped off with one bold statement, one that would set forth the way the Chase would finish out.
“He better be worried; he ain’t gonna have an easy three weeks,” is what Stewart said after that win.
The next week, he came out and won at Texas. Edwards ran second, and thus had his lead cut from eight points down to three. The next race at Phoenix went to a draw, but eliminated every other Chase driver going for the title. It would be Edwards versus Stewart for the title in the season’s final race.
For Stewart, only one way would give him the title outright: win the race. Forget the mathematical options that were out there, forget the scenarios where he could still win it. The only way Stewart was treating this final race was take the checkered flag, win it on the track and not because of math.
Yes, he didn’t lead the most laps. Yes, his team made a gutsy and tough call late in the race.
But on lap 267, it didn’t matter. Edwards led the most laps in the Ford 400, finishing second, and earning 44 points. But, Stewart decided to go all-in, putting everything on the line. He didn’t go bust, and he didn’t just double up. Stewart cashed in all his chips, and despite having to come back twice because of damage to the nose of his car, flat out put a beat down on the competition.
His win, combined with Edwards’ runner-up finish, gave both drivers 2403 points on the season. However, because of his five victories, every one of which coming in the Chase, Stewart got the tie-breaker and thus is the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.
Consider this, since the Chase began in 2004, only three drivers have won the title. Kurt Busch won the inaugural Chase in 2004, then Stewart won it in 2005. From 2006-2011, Jimmie Johnson made a mockery of the Chase with his five consecutive titles. But this championship for Stewart is different.
This is only the third year for Stewart in a team that he started, and he is only the second owner-driver to win the championship. The last time it was done was in 1992, and ironically it came down to the final laps between Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott to decide that championship as well. The difference was Kulwicki had to lead the most laps to secure the championship, and that proved to be the difference. Kulwicki won the title by 10 points over Elliott, as the then-five bonus points for leading the most laps made the difference.
However, fans have wanted winning to count for more in NASCAR, and when the Chase went to the 12-driver format and gave bonus points for wins, they have tried to make winning an emphasis.
This year, winning didn’t count for more, it was everything. Five is always greater than one, and for Stewart five wins equaled his third NASCAR championship.
The bottom line, the man nicknamed “Smoke” simply smoked the field in the Chase. Congratulations to Tony Stewart, crew chief Darian Grubb, owner Gene Haas, and everyone at the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevorlet team based out of Stewart-Haas Racing.
The Cup is yours!
RESULTS: 1-Stewart 2-Edwards 3-Truex Jr. 4-Kenseth 5-Gordon 6-Bowyer 7-Kahne 8-Harvick 9-Hamlin 10-Burton
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Earnhardt Jr. 12-Newman 20-Keselowski 23-Kyle Busch 32-Johnson 34-Kurt Busch
CAUTIONS: 8 for 54 laps. Lap 14-21 (Rain), 35-37 (#35 spin-T4), 84-87 (Oil on track), 109-116 (Rain [Red Flag: 1 Hr, 14 Mins, 6 Secs]), 135-138 (#21 accident-T4), 143-146 (#34, 48 accident-T4), 155-160 (#1, 21, 51, 84 accident-BS), 214-230 (Rain).
LEAD CHANGES: 26 among 15 drivers. Edwards 1-14, Kvapil 15-17, Nemechek 18-20, Edwards 21-35, Montoya 36-37, Keselowski 38-47, Edwards 48-78, Gordon 79, Kenseth 80, Johnson 81-82, Edwards 83-112, Biffle 113-114, Harvick 115-116, Gordon 117-122, Stewart 123-135, Gilliland 136, Harvick 137-146, Truex Jr. 147-151, Stewart 152-156, Burton 157-160, Kenseth 161-174, Edwards 175-200, Stewart 201-211, Edwards 212-214, Kyle Buch 215-230, Keselowski 231, Stewart 232-267.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 29 Mins.
AVERAGE SPEED: 114.976 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.306 Seconds
2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Stewart, 2403 points*; 2. Edwards, 2403 points; 3. Harvick, -58; 4. Kenseth, -73; 5. Keselowski, -84; 6. Johnson, -99; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -113; 8. Gordon, -116; 9. Hamlin, -119; 10. Newman, -119; 11. Kurt Busch, -141; 12. Kyle Busch, -157.
*Wins title based on tie-breaker, which is amount of wins