By Gary P Jackson
When NASCAR changed their points system and created a playoff, I doubt that even in their wildest dreams they would have seen such an incredible event as we witnessed Sunday afternoon and evening.
Going into the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Carl Edwards led Tony Stewart by a scant 3 points. After qualifying, Edwards sat on the pole for the race, with Stewart in the 15th position. This created a situation where Tony Stewart would have to win the race to be the champion.
In the early going Stewart had major troubles as Kurt Busch’s number 22 Dodge had driveline failure and sent something through the grille of Stewart’s Office Depot Chevy. This was big, as it could have put Tony out of the race. As it was, it put him at the back of the field.
In no time, Stewart charged through the field, going three and four wide as he passed whole groups of cars at a time.
Problems would strike again though. On a four tire pit stop one of the lug nuts holding the right rear wheel on jammed in the socket of the air gun, and took what seemed like an eternity to remove. Stewart’s crew chief, Darrian Grubb, called off the left side tires, and sent Tony back out.
Again at the back of the field, and on two tires when all of the top cars had four fresh ones, Tony drove through the field. This was a man on a mission.
While Stewart was having all of these problems, Edwards was running up front all day, and would end up leading the most laps.
The pivotal event came late in the race. While the leaders came in for pit stops, Grubb had Stewart stay out and stretch the few drops of fuel he had in the car. The thinking being that being Tony was getting better fuel mileage than Edwards, and most of the field. In other words, after their pit stop, they could finish the race without having to come back in.
This was a huge gamble, as it would again force Tony to go back to the back of the pack. At some point that kind of strategy can cause problems. Plus, a late race caution could ruin the whole plan.
As luck would have it, not long after Tony’s last stop, it started raining, something it had been doing all weekend.
The race had already been halted once for rain.
This was more of a light shower, so NASCAR kept the cars on the track to keep heat in the surface, as the jet dryers went to work.
As most couldn’t make it to the end without another pit stop, many drivers, including Carl Edwards, would eventually come in for fuel under the caution flag.
In the end, when the race restarted, Stewart found himself 4th in the field, with Edwards in 6th. Before the end of the first lap of the restart, Stewart was in lead, and never looked back.
Edwards drove his heart out but simply couldn’t catch Tony.
This was a perfect way to end the season, and the race. You had the two best drivers out in front, all by themselves, driving the race of their lives.
In the end, Tony beat Carl and they were tied in NASCAR Sprint Cup championship points. NASCAR had to use the tie breaker, who won the most races in the Chase, to settle it. Stewart had five wins out of ten races. He won the championship by one point!
On his way to victory Tony Stewart passed 118 cars.
The entire thing was summed up best by Homestead-Miami officials on Twitter:
@HomesteadMiami race report is in: After 36 races, 14,236.738 miles, 10,650 laps, margin of #Chase victory = 1.306 seconds. #NASCAR
Simply the greatest racing event in NASCAR history.
Tony Stewart hadn’t won a single race during the regular season, but drove consistently enough to make the Chase. Once the Chase began, he dominated. Of course, Carl Edwards was good too, and consistently finished well at every race, while Stewart stumbled at a couple of races, making it a tough battle all the way.
In a classy move, Edwards was the first over to Tony after the race to congratulate him.
For winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Stewart earned $5,662,800 from Sprint.
Here’s a couple of videos from the race.