By Brian Willwerth
Admit it. When the Chase began, you had no expectations for Tony Stewart. Heck, he even said so himself. Here’s a guy who didn’t even qualify for NASCAR’s playoff until the last possible moment at Richmond.
And yet, here he is, just over three months later, celebrating his third Cup title. He also won it all on 2002 and 2005.
Stewart won his fifth race of the Chase Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It capped off an epic playoff battle with Carl Edwards, who finished second. The only way “Smoke” could win the title is to win the finale. That’s just what he did. Edwards and Stewart ended up tied in points. But the tiebreaker goes to the driver who won the most races. Stewart won five – all of them in the Chase. Edwards won only one. It was the closest Chase since NASCAR began the playoff system back in 2004.
Stewart became the first owner/driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992. Stewart is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Edwards has nothing to hang his head about. Over the last 10 races, his average finish was 4.9. He was the points leader for much of the Chase. But it wasn’t good enough to hold off the fast-charging Stewart, who tore his way through the field.
Among NASCAR fanatics, this will go down as a historic victory. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sport’s most popular driver, you can make the argument that Smoke is easily #2. Go to any racetrack, (and I’ve been to many) and you’ll see just as many red #14’s in the stands as green #88’s.
Jimmie Johnson, who was vying for his 6th consecutive title, never got close to achieving that goal. He finished 6th in the Chase, 99 points back. Dale Jr., another driver who qualified for the Chase at the last minute, came in 7th.
It’s been an amazing year of racing. See you in February at the granddaddy of them all: the Daytona 500.