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Homestead comeback complete Chase comeback for champion Stewart

November 21, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Homestead comeback complete Chase comeback for champion Stewart
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Points tiebreaker gives Stewart championship after he beats Edwards for fifth win

Tony Stewart won the biggest game of winner-take-all in the history of NASCAR.

Rebounding from a succession of setbacks, Stewart took the checkered flag in Sunday's rain-interrupted Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the Sprint Cup championship in a tiebreaker over race runner-up Carl Edwards.

Winning his way


Tony Stewart's fifth Chase victory made him a three-time Cup Series champ. Smoke needed every one as he and Carl Edwards finished in a dead heat and Stewart won on the tiebreaker.

With four new tires to Edwards' two -- thanks to a strategic gamble that paid off when rain hit the 1.5-mile speedway for the second time on Lap 213 of 267 -- Stewart gradually pulled away after a restart on Lap 231 and claimed his third Cup title, bookending the five consecutive championships won by Jimmie Johnson from 2006 to 2010. Stewart also won in 2002.

The victory was Stewart's fifth of the season -- all coming in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup -- and the 44th of his career. The bonus points for winning allowed Stewart to make up the three-point lead Edwards held with one event left. Stewart and Edwards ended the Chase tied at the top of the standings, but Stewart claimed the title with five victories this season to Edwards' one.

Martin Truex Jr. ran third Sunday, followed by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.

Stewart, who left Joe Gibbs Racing to become co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, became the first owner-driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki accomplished the feat in 1992.

"We said all week, [if] we just go out and win the race, we didn't have to worry about what he did -- and that's what we did," Stewart said in Victory Lane, as rain pelted the winning team. "If this doesn't go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don't know what will."

Magnanimous in victory, Stewart turned the page from the relentless ribbing he had given Edwards during the weeks leading up to the finale.

"Great guy, and we've been giving him a rough time this week, but it was all in an effort to do what we did and that's to win this championship," Stewart said. "But it shows how classy a guy he is. He was the first one to me over there [to offer congratulations], and he just said, 'Promise me one thing: You'll enjoy this, and I hope you and I are in this position again next year.'

"So much class. A great guy."

Edwards' average finish in the Chase was 4.9, bettering the record 5.0 Johnson fashioned in winning the 2007 championship -- but it wasn't good enough to win the closest championship in NASCAR history and the first [since position-based scoring was introduced in 1975] in which a driver has come from behind to win the title by winning the final race.

Stewart's crew chief, Darian Grubb, forced Edwards' hand late in the race by getting 56 laps out of a tank of fuel. Stewart came to pit road for the last time on Lap 211 -- 10 laps later than Edwards -- with the option to go the rest of the way without pitting.

When rain hit for the second time on Lap 213. Edwards had to pit under caution but faced the choice of taking four tires and losing track position and possibly the championship, if rain washed out the race. The race went green for the final 37 laps, and Edwards did everything in his power to overtake his rival -- but in vain.

"We led the most laps [119], and Tony still managed, you know, him and Darian to do a good job with their strategy," Edwards said. "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.

"But I just hope everybody is proud of the way we performed and our effort. I appreciate everyone's support -- all the folks that helped me get to this position -- and I wish so bad we had that trophy, but just wasn't meant to be tonight."

Stewart's quest for a third title was derailed early when contact with debris -- of origin unknown -- punched a hole in the grille of his No. 14 Chevrolet the size of a small saucer. Stewart fell to 40th in the running order, while his crew made repairs under caution on Lap 17.

By Lap 32, Stewart had worked his way up to 23rd.

"They're going to feel like [expletive], after we kick their ass after this," Stewart radioed during the run through traffic.

Dave Blaney's spin off Turn 4 on Lap 34 halted the progress of the No. 14 Chevy. Stewart brought the car back to pit road under the yellow, and during a lengthy pit stop, his crew applied tape to hold the grille in place.

Stewart dropped to 38th in the process, but during a long green-flag run that included a cycle of pit stops, Stewart passed car after car, typically powering harder and farther into Turn 3 than any other driver on the track.

"They [Edwards' team] are going to really feel worse when we've been to the back twice," Stewart said.

On Lap 67, Stewart passed Denny Hamlin for 12th.

"Where are we at in this contest?" Stewart asked Grubb.

Told he was running 12th, Stewart replied, "Ah, yes, this is not over!"

True to his word, Stewart continued his charge toward the front of the field, and by the time rain forced a long delay 109 laps into the race, Stewart had climbed to fifth, with only Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Truex between him and Edwards, who picked up his 87th lap led right before the stoppage.

It was the final race in their current cars for several drivers. Mark Martin finished 24th in his last trip in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. David Reutimann ran 18th in his last ride in the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Clint Bowyer was sixth in his swan song in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy. Kasey Kahne came home seventh in his last ride in the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota, and teammate Brian Vickers was 17th in his last turn in the No. 83.

If NASCAR's electronic fuel injection plans stay on schedule, the Ford 400 will be the last Cup race run with carbureted engines.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th to end his third consecutive winless season and run his drought to 129 races.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Tony Stewart scored his 44th victory in his 464th start.
• This is Tony Stewart's fifth victory of 2011, all in the 10 Chase races. Stewart's five Chase wins are the most for a driver in the Chase.
• Tony Stewart earned his third victory at Homestead in his 13th start. His three Homestead victories are tied with Greg Biffle for the most.
• This is the seventh time the Cup Series champion won the last race of the season. The most recent time was Jeff Gordon in 1998.
• Tony Stewart passed 76 cars on the track in Sunday's race.
• Tony Stewart started the Chase ninth in points, the farthest back a driver has come back to win the Cup Series championship.
• Stewart-Haas Racing earned its 13th victory and the team's six wins in 2011 are tied for the most.
• This is Chevrolet's 18th victory of 2011 and second Homestead victory.
• Carl Edwards (second) scored his fifth top-five at Homestead, 19th top-five in 2011 -- the most of all drivers. Edwards' average finish of 4.9 in Chase is best ever by a Chase driver.
• Martin Truex Jr (third) earned his second top-five at Homestead and third top-five of 2011. Truex finished in the top 10 in four of the final five races.
• Matt Kenseth (fourth) posted his third top-five finish at Homestead and 12th top-five of 2011, five of which came in the Chase.
• Jeff Gordon (fifth) scored his sixth top-five at Homestead and 13th top-five of 2011.
• Clint Bowyer (sixth) earned his fourth top-10 finish in the past five races. He finished 2011 13th in points with four top-five finishes and 16 top-10 finishes.
• Kasey Kahne (seventh) had 15 top-10 finishes in 2011, including seven in the final eight races.
• Jeff Burton (10th) had five top-10 finishes in 2011, including four in the final five races.
• Jimmie Johnson (32nd) finishes sixth in 2011 final points standings, his lowest points position in his 10th full-time season.

Championship Notes-n-Nuggets

• Tony Stewart won his third Cup Series championship in 464 starts. He won the 2002 and 2005 Cup championships.
• Tony Stewart is the only driver to win a Cup championship in the pre-Chase format (2002) and the Chase format (2005,2011).
• Tony Stewart has been in the Chase seven of eight seasons, all but 2006 when he missed the Chase by 16 points.
• Tony Stewart is the ninth driver to win three or more championships in 63 Cup Series seasons.
• Tony Stewart is the first driver to enter the Chase winless in the regular season and win the championship.
• This is the first time 1-2 in points have been tied at the end of the season.
• Tony Stewart made his first Cup start at Daytona in Feb. 1999 and has started every race since.
• Tony Stewart has at least one Cup victory in each of his 13 seasons -- the longest active streak.
• Tony Stewart is the eighth driver to win Cup Series championships for more than one organization and the first since Terry Labonte in 1996.
• Tony Stewart is the first owner/driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
• Tony Stewart is the seventh driver to win the championship and the season finale.
• This is the first time the champion and second in points finished 1-2 in the season finale.
• Tony Stewart's nine top-fives are the fewest top-five finishes by a champion since Bill Rexford had five in the 1950 season with only 17 starts.
• This is the 28th Cup Series title for a Chevrolet driver including the past seven.
• Tony Stewart is 40 years old (May 20, 1971) from Columbus, Ind. He is the oldest champion in the Chase era.
• Crew chief Darian Grubb earned his first Cup Series championship. He has been a Cup crew chief for 148 races.

Johnson finished 32nd Sunday and finished sixth in the final standings, the first time in his career he has ended a season outside the top five.

Watch all the highlights from Homestead: