Two Days Later – Reflections on Tony Stewart’s Triumphant Win

Tony Stewart capped off an exciting NASCAR season with a championship win on Sunday!

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.

Daily Noontime – November 21, 2011

Give it up for Tony Stewart, who won the Sprint Cup Championship on Sunday!

Happy Monday y’all and of course, here’s an early Happy Thanksgiving message to everyone too – have fun and be safe! Anyways, it’s time to kick-off the day with some fun filled news and headlines, so let’s get the party started!  

Headlines: 

* Sad news was reported early Monday morning, as MSNBC.com and other news sources confirmed the death of Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman. According to the report, Halman’s brother was involved in the killing and was arrested once police arrived at the home.

* Tony Stewart capped off the NASCAR season with the Sprint Cup championship, as he defeated Carl Edwards for the victory.

* According to reports — Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will most likely miss the remainder of the season due to a thumb injury on his throwing hand.

* This might sound crazy, but the Philadelphia Eagles somehow helped their playoff chances on Sunday, as backup quarterback Vince Young led the men dressed in green and white past the New York Giants for their fourth victory of the season.

* It’s possible that the Boston Red Sox have found their “man,” as the organization is expected to meet with former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine on Monday.

* After losing to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall expressed to the media that he should be released.

Games to Watch: 

* No. 17 Michigan vs. No. 10 Memphis (NCAA Basketball) – 3:00pm eastern 

* Tennessee at No. 6 Duke (NCAA Basketball) – 5:30pm eastern 

* Carolina at Philadelphia (NHL) – 7:00pm eastern 

* Boston at Montreal (NHL) – 7:30pm eastern 

* Kansas City at New England (NFL) – 8:30pm eastern 

Video of the Day: 

Good old Lee Corso apologized for swearing on “College Game Day,” and here’s the video, enjoy! 

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

By Brian Willwerth 

There is just one race left – one race to determine the 2011 NASCAR champion.  And if you’re looking for drama, boy do we have it. A mere three-points heading into next weekend’s finale at Homestead separates Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, which again should make for an exciting finish, right?

More on the championship battle in a moment, but first – a look back at Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kasey Kahne – the favorite driver of yours truly – finally took the checkered flag in the #4 car. It was his first win in his last 81 races. You have to go all the way back to ‘09 at Atlanta to find the last time Kahne celebrated in Victory Lane. He is not in the Chase for the Championship, yet only Stewart and Edwards have been better than Kahne over the past nine races. Kahne will be joining Hendrick Motorsports next season.

Edwards and Stewart finished second and third at Phoenix, which sets up a tremendous finale. This is the closest any two drivers have been heading into the final race, since the Chase format began in ‘04. Even if neither driver is contention for the win at Homestead, expect ESPN’s cameras to be focused on these two guys the entire way. Every car passed means a critical point earned in the standings.

It’s going to be fun.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Tony Stewart continues to make headlines!

By Brian Willwerth 

With two races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the race for the championship is primarily a two-man battle.

Red-hot Tony Stewart won his second straight race in the playoffs Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s his fourth win in eight Chase races. He led a race-high 173-laps. He’s now just a mere three points behind leader Carl Edwards, who finished second.

How is Edwards managing to stay ahead of Stewart in the standings, despite not winning a race in the playoff? It’s all about consistency. He has finished in the top ten in seven of the eight races, with the lone exception being an 11th place finish at Talladega. He’s been the points’ leader for five consecutive weeks now. Stewart had to fight just to get into the Chase.

Kevin Harvick is a distant third, 33 points behind Edwards.

BUSCH PARKED – The other major headline from the race weekend at Texas involved Kyle Busch.  After deliberately wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck Series race Friday night, NASCAR parked Busch for the rest of the weekend. Busch and Hornaday made contact, bringing out the caution. Busch drove right up to Hornaday’s bumper – under caution – and sent the Trucks’ championship contender nose-first into the wall.

Busch was a long shot to win the Sprint Cup title at that point anyway. Now, forget about it.

NEXT WEEK: The second-to-last race of the season at Phoenix. Jeff Gordon, who’s had a very quiet Chase, won the first race at the one-mile oval back in February.

Stewart Captures Third NASCAR Playoff

Tony Stewart won an impressive race in Loudon on Sunday!

By Brian Willwerth 

For a driver who hadn’t won a race all season prior to the Chase, Tony Stewart is making the most of his victories when it matters most.

On Sunday, “Smoke,” (Stewart’s nickname), won his third race of NASCAR’s playoff – driving his #14 car to victory lane at Martinsville Speedway. He passed Jimmie Johnson on the final restart with three laps to go.

With the win, Stewart is just eight points behind the leader, Carl Edwards. Edwards started on the pole Sunday, and finished 9th. He hasn’t won a race in the Chase, yet he continues to post strong-enough finishes to remain the leader.

If you like wrecks, there were plenty of them in the race. The yellow flag waived a season-high 18 times, more than the 15 I saw when I was down in Richmond in September. There was plenty of banging and paint-trading, another trademark of the classic short-track racing that Martinsville brings out.

NEXT WEEK: They’re off to the 1.5 mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway. There are three races left in the Chase.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Clint Bowyer performed quite well this past weekend!

By Brian Willwerth 

The sixth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup ended up being a battle between two drivers who aren’t even vying for the title.

Clinton Bowyer and Jeff Burton had been working together in the two-car drafting at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. Coming off the final turn, Bowyer passed Burton and edged him at the finish line. It was Bowyer’s first win of the season, and the 100th victory for Richard Childress Racing in the Cup Series.

It was a rough day for some of the Chasers. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both had accidents that cost them big-time. Jimmie Johnson was never a factor in the end, despite his usual hanging in the back of the pack.

Carl Edwards is still the point’s leader, as well as 14 points ahead of Matt Kenseth.

Next week – short-track racing at Martinsville, which should be fun.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Matt Kenseth had a great night on Saturday!

By Brian Willwerth 

We are halfway through the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The title is still up for grabs, although three drivers are starting to separate themselves from the pack.

One of them is Matt Kenseth, who drove his #17 car to victory lane Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was his first win of the playoffs, and third of 2011, (he also won at Texas and Dover back in the spring.) With the victory, he moved into third place, just seven points behind leader Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick remains in second, five points behind Edwards.

On Saturday night, Kenseth passed Kyle Busch on a restart with 25 laps remaining, and never looked back.  Busch had been in control for much of the race. Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five.

The other headline involves five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. His bid for another title took a major hit – literally. Late in the race, he got loose coming off Turn 2, spun around, and then his #48 car went slamming nose-first into the outside wall. He finished 34th on Saturday night, and is now eighth in the standings.

The other big on-track incident was also in Turn 2. Kahne, Jeff Gordon and David Ragan were three-wide. There was contact, and when it was all over, all three drivers were sitting idle along the inside wall. Gordon finished 21st, as his struggles in the Chase continue.

NEXT WEEK: Talladega.  Need I say more…

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Expect Jimmie Johnson to continue making an impact going forward.

By Brian Willwerth 

For those of you who all but counted Jimmie Johnson out of contention for a sixth straight title, you might want to take a look at the most recent standings.

Johnson dominated the race Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway, leading 197 laps. It was just his second win of the season and first since Talladega back on April 17.

This was all #48, all the time. Yes, he had to survive a green-white-checkered finish at the end when Jeff Gordon’s engine went “poof” with three laps to go. But Johnson took care of business on the final shootout, holding off Kasey Kahne. Johnson is now in third place in the standings, a mere four points behind Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick is just one point behind in second place.

On Sunday, Kahne was second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Edwards. Chase drivers took four of the top five spots, with Kahne being the exception.

NEXT WEEK: they’ll be racing under the lights Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  We all remember what happened there back on Memorial Day weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was half-a-lap away from victory, only to run out of gas and watch Harvick go cruising by for the win. There are six races left in the Chase.

Stewart Picks Up The Win on Sunday in New Hampshire

Tony Stewart won an impressive race in Loudon on Sunday!

By Brian Willwerth 

LOUDON, NH – What a difference a couple of weeks makes.

Earlier this month, there was a chance Tony Stewart would not even make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Now, two races into the sport’s playoff, one of NASCAR’s more popular drivers is leading the way.

Stewart drove his #14 car to victory lane for the second race in a row Sunday afternoon, taking the checkered flag when Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel with about two laps to go. It was a reversal of déjà vu: the exact opposite thing happened to these two drivers in last fall’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We may not have been the best car at the end, I mean Clint was just a tick better than us,” said Stewart, who said he didn’t know that Bowyer was short on fuel.

This was a very clean race with only three cautions. While there was passing, most of it was not for the lead. Whoever was leading the race did so for long stretches at a time. Pole-sitter Ryan Newman led the early stages. Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin all took turns out front.  Stewart did not lead until the final two laps. When Bowyer’s #33 car ran out of gas, Stewart said ‘thank you very much,’ and that was that.

Brad Keselowski continued his torrid second half of the season with a second-place finish. Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five. Bowyer, who nearly won this race, ended up 26th.

There are still eight races remaining in the Chase. Stewart is not taking anything for granted.

“We hope the next eight weeks go this way,” he said.  “You look at guys that are in the back half of the Chase right now… there are guys that a lot of people expected to be in the top five or top three in the points right now and it shows that one or two bad days can put you in a bad spot pretty quick.”

THE WRECK WRAP: Carl Edwards sent Matt Kenseth for a spin-o-rama in Turn 2. This is one teammate spun out the other. Both drivers stayed in the race, and in fact, ended up with Top-10 finishes.

NEXT WEEK: We go from the Magic Mile at Loudon to the Monster Mile at Dover. Stewart leads Kevin Harvick by 7 points, Keselowski by 11 and Edwards by 14. The rest of the Chasers are further back.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Get ready because the Chase is right around the corner!

By Brian Willwerth 

The Chase is on. And here comes Smoke.

Tony Stewart, who didn’t secure his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup until the last moment, won the first race of NASCAR’s playoffs Monday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway. The #14 team played the fuel mileage game to perfection, as tons of cars ran out of gas on the final lap. It was Stewart’s first win of the season, and first overall since October of 2010.

Stewart moved all the way up to 2nd in the standings. Kevin Harvick has taken over first place in the Chase. He finished 2nd while fellow contenders Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards finished 3rd and 4th.

Among those running out of fuel at the end were Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.  Both drivers took serious hits in the standings, falling all the way to 10th and 11th respectively. Here are the updated standings:

DRIVER                                       POINTS BACK

  1.  Kevin Harvick                                 –
  2.  Tony Stewart                                  -7
  3. Matt Kenseth                                  -8
  4. Jimmie Johnson                              -9
  5. Ryan Newman                               -10
  6.  Carl Edwards                                – 14
  7. Kurt Busch                                      -15
  8.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.                        -16
  9.  Brad Keselowski                           -18
  10. Kyle Busch                                    -19
  11. Jeff Gordon                                  -24
  12. Denny Hamlin                               -41

It was a relatively clean race. So the Wreck Wrap is taking the week off.

NEXT WEEK: it’s the second race of the Chase, and the second of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Ryan Newman won there back in July.  It should be a fun time, as always. I’ll be in Loudon to take it all in.