You couldn‘t ask for a better championship battle than NASCAR has enjoyed this year through its 10-round ‘Chase for the Cup’. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards raced for the Sprint Cup all the way to the flag at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday night. Stewart drove an excellent race, coming back from losing time in the pits – first to fix damage to his car’s nose, then with a troublesome wheel gun – to charge into the lead on the race’s final restart. Edwards chased him all the way, leading the most laps and crossing the line just one second behind the winner.
Stewart and Edwards finished the year tied on points, but Stewart triumphed by virtue of having more wins – five to one. It’s the first time in NASCAR’s 63-year history that its championship has finished in a tie. This is Stewart’s third Sprint Cup title and his first as a team owner/driver since buying into Stewart/Haas Racing. He also becomes the first owner/driver to win NASCAR’s premier championship since the late Alan Kulwicki 20 years ago.
“This is just unbelievable,” Stewart grinned. “If this doesn’t go down as one of the great championship battles in history I don’t know what will.”
After starting his NASCAR career in 1999 with Joe Gibbs’ team, with whom he won two titles in 2002 and ’05, Stewart bought a half interest in machine tool manufacturer Gene Haas’s outfit three years ago. At the time Stewart also made a deal with Rick Hendrick to supply his team with chassis and engines, considered the best in the business.
“I can’t thank Gene Haas and Joe Custer enough for giving me this opportunity,” said Stewart. “And I couldn’t have done it without my good buddy Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. [Crew chief] Darian Grubb and everyone on this team have dug deep and never given up. I’ve got the best team in the business. It’s just awesome and I’m so grateful to be able to do this for Gene Haas because the man has invested a lot in this sport.”
Edwards was gracious in defeat: “Tony Stewart and his guys rose to the occasion, they beat us fair and square. That was as hard as I could drive. My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps but Tony and his guys did a good job with their strategy and came out in front of us. I told my wife that if I can’t win this thing, I’d be the best loser NASCAR has ever had. So I’m going to try really hard to keep my head up and know that we’re going to be just as hard to beat next year and the year after that.”
An Indiana native Stewart, 40, is one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, second only to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Brash and outspoken, he is the perfect champion for American stock car racing.