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.
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!
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.