The last man to win a championship who was not named Jimmie Johnson was Tony Stewart.Ã‚Â Now Stewart is also the first man to win a Championship in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series since Johnson’s reign of 5 consecutive championships.Ã‚Â Winning an amazing 5 out of 10 chase races and making every lap count, especially the last lap at Homestead Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart proved that he was the one to beat all along.Ã‚Â With the points ending in a tie between Edwards and Stewart, it was the wins that made a difference.Ã‚Â When NASCAR polled their fans to ask them what they wanted to see, the number one answer was for wins to make a bigger difference in the end result.Ã‚Â Well you can’t make wins any more important than they were yesterday.Ã‚Â If either Stewart or Edwards won the Ford 400, they would win the championship, regardless of what happened with the other guy.Ã‚Â Stewart won them both, while Edwards finished second in both the race, and the championship.
“We said all week, 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 the skies opened up once again. “If this doesn’t go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don’t know what will.”
Stewart had been relentless with his trash talk for the last 3 weeks, giving Edwards as much to think about as he could, but he was courteous in the end as he spoke about his competitor in Victory Lane.
“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.”
Even though Edwards had led the most laps and looked to have the dominant car all day, Stewart overcame his own on track troubles and took the lead with 37 to go, and never looked back.Ã‚Â Edwards, the ever gracious competitor, summed it up with his comments.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They beat us fair and square,” said Carl.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That was all I had at the end. My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps, and Tony still managed, him and (crew chief) Darian (Grubb), to do a good job with their strategy.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all I got at the end. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as hard as I can drive.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was just so unbelievable, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like a movie,Ã¢â‚¬Â allowed Edwards, whose runner-up finish was good enough to give NASCAR its first championship tie. . . . but not good enough to overcome the tiebreaker Ã¢â‚¬â€ StewartÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s five wins to EdwardsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ one.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was very, very impressed with Tony,Ã¢â‚¬Â Edwards said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“For all the talk and chest-pounding he did, I could see that he was nervous about this, too.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They had to perform at a very high level and I honestly thought there was a good chance they would make a mistake, of him overdriving, trying too hard. And they showed a lot of mental toughness to be able to watch us go lead the first half of the race essentially and not panic and not make mistakes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“This was a race, and it came down to strategy on the pit stops and restarts and everything it should come down to. I’m not going to lie, I was hoping he’d run out of fuel there at the end. But he didn’t. I’m sure that he’s going to enjoy this championship — and I’m hoping we’re going to be back in this position again next year. I learned a ton.”
“I told my wife, if I can’t win this thing I’ll be the best loser.”
“It was fun. I plan on winning about the next 10 of these. That’s how I feel right now. I’d like to start right now again and do it every day for as long as I live. That’s how much fun it was.”
“I just wanted to make sure that Bob knew that I believe he’s the best crew chief here, and that he will be my crew chief for as long as he wants to be, and that I’m behind him and his decision 100 percent,” Edwards said.
Stewart became the first Owner/Driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki did it back in 1992 and joins a very short and elite list, with the only other name on it being Richard Petty.
Struggling through on track issues early in the race, the Stewart-Haas team put their Office Deport Chevy back together and overcame having the front
end punched in through the rad, numerous pit road issues, some bad pit stops, and in the end made a fuel mileage gamble that put Stewart in a great position on the final restart of the race.
“One thing I learned about this team is that everybody dug deep and never gave up,” Stewart said. “I’ve got the best team in the business. We said all week we had to go out and win the race; it didn’t matter what he [Edwards] did. After the way those first 109 laps went today, I told my guys it was going to make these guys mad when we come back twice and still kick their butt.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Man, I feel like I passed half the state of Florida today Ã¢â‚¬â€ 118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race and to do it under the circumstances and pressure we had today, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very proud of that,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Stewart.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would have to say this is one of the greatest races of my life.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A few other back stories that seemed to get lost in the Championship battle were the moving of Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports, the drastic improvement of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s performance under the tutiledge of Steve Letarte, and the fact that Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart’s crew chief, has no idea where his future lies.
Darian Grubb announced in the media center just before Stewart himself arrived for Q&A, that 10 weeks ago before the race at Chicagoland, he had been told that after the season they would be discussing the direction the team would be taking, and that he may not be included in that direction.Ã‚Â Despite knowing for the past 10 weeks that he may be out of a job, Grubb performed at the top of his game andÃ‚Â gave Stewart everything he needed to win 5 out of the last 10 races, and put the team in championship form.
Kasey Kahne pulled of his first win in a RedBull car with only 2 races left with that team.Ã‚Â Kasey will be moving to Hendrick Motorsports and driving the #5 car replacing out going driver Mark Martin.Ã‚Â Kahne will be sharing a garage with Jeff Gordon and will have the all powerful Hendrick equipment under him as he starts the 2012 season.Ã‚Â Other rumors in the garage around Hendrick is that Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson may be splitting up.Ã‚Â Although only rumor and conjecture at this point, Rick Hendrick did make a ton of significant changes at the end of the 2010 season, which resulted in varying performance improvements in his drivers through out the 2011 season.
The most obvious of those improvements was the performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally making the chase after missing it twice in the seasons before.Jr. looked to b4e a much more confident driver through out 2011, more the man his fans remembered before the tragic loss of Earnhardt Sr. 10 years ago.Ã‚Â With Steve LeTarte being the biggest cheer leader in Jr.’s corner, Jr. looked to be gaining in confidence all season long and although they stumbled early in the chase and fell back to 9th in the standings, he rallied with his team behind him to finish 7th over all, his best placing since coming to drive for Hendrick.Ã‚Â Fans are hoping for more improvements in the seasons to come, especially the breaking of his winless streak sometime in the 2012 season.