Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tony Stewart makes history at Homestead

Stewart claimed the checkers at the Ford 400 and his 3rd NASCAR Championship.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Tony Stewart went to Homestead-Miami last week with an upbeat, playful attitude. Who could blame him; he was just three points behind the Chase leader and potential winner, Carl Edwards. It was the first time NASCAR fans saw such a close call for the final race in years. Kevin Harvick, the third place finisher, wasn’t even mathematically able to win the Sprint Cup no matter what happened in the final laps.

Stewart had nothing to lose, he was fortunate enough to even be in the Chase. At the start of the 10 week ‘play-off,’ Stewart himself said that he didn’t belong and that he was taking away someone’s chance to win the title.

Something turned around for the No. 14 team. He won the first Chase race in Chicago, and then he went on to win the second race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. There was a slight fear that he could be out of contention when he finished 25th in Dover and then 15th in Kansas. He pulled out of the slump and he won again in Martinsville. The very next week, he again won in Texas. He finished third in Phoenix, and then came the season finale at Homestead-Miami.

Stewart had started talking smack trying to scare and put pressure on points leader Carl Edwards since he won the Martinsville race, and he backed up his smack talk by performing well on the track.

“But I'll be honest, Carl Edwards I thought did an excellent job of going into Homestead also," said Stewart when asked if he felt any pressure about going into Homestead. “With the fact that he hasn't won a championship, I thought he dealt with the pressure very well. I firmly believe that he's going to get one pretty soon here. But I felt like from our side, I thought it was just a little bit different from the standpoint that we just didn't have that pressure going into it like I thought we would.”

Stewart wanted to have fun, and the rival between the two contenders was fun. Stewart, or “Smoke” as fans like to call him, had repeatedly said he had nothing to lose.

In Miami, Stewart started in 15th position. His car suffered damage to the grille; it was a hole the size of man’s fist. Stewart admitted that he never felt the impact of the blow to car. They repaired the damage and Stewart moved ahead, then he fell back once again.

The race was off to a solid start and then red-flagged due to rain attempting to dampen the spirit of the race. After the track was dried and the race restarted it was later yellow-flagged for a few laps during a brief sprinkle. After Stewart got out of his car at race end, the skies opened up and it down poured all over Homestead-Miami’s track.

During the red-flagged rain delay, "Smoke's" fun rivalry continued when he walked by Jack Roush and engine builder Doug Yates, "Tell your boy to get up on the wheel because I'm on my way and I'm coming," he said.

Stewart’s hard racing concerned some people, he later told the media, "There were crew guys [during the rain delay] who were asking me, 'What are you doing? What's going on here? Where are you coming from? And I told them, 'What else am I going to do? If I crash this thing on the way to the front, so be it.' It wasn't that I was throwing caution to the wind. I mean, we were trying to be calculating and methodical about what we were doing - but the storylines were total opposites.”

Stewart was doing an excellent job driving up on the wheel, but he wasn’t angry, “I think the fact that we were coming from behind let us stay calm during the drama at the beginning of the race. It just seemed like once we were able to overcome that, it just gave us so much confidence that we did have a good race car and we were able to battle back right away. You just kind of had the confidence on your side and it was about staying focused,” said Stewart.

“I don't think there was any part of the race where I actually felt any kind of anger other than when I made contact with David Reutimann. After talking to David, I was the one that made the mistake there, not him. So it was more just not putting yourself in any bad positions, and other than that it was just staying focused and having fun driving,” Stewart said looking back at his winning race.

Stewart passed 118 cars, led 65 laps and won the race as well as the Sprint Cup title. It is the first time that an owner/driver combination has won the Championship since Alan Kulwicki took the title in 1992.

Stewart and Edwards tied the season with 2403 points, but because Stewart won that race as well as winning four other races, he held NASCAR’s tie-breaker, most wins. It is the first tie-breaker in a championship race for NASCAR.

The 2011 NASCAR season started with a history-making win in the Daytona 500 by a first-time winner being the youngest to win it; more history was made during the season with four other first-time winners, and the season ended with a veteran driver winning 5 races of the final ten and to go from last in points to winning, Stewart–Haas has a lot to look forward to for 2012. Stewart has been tight lipped about his future with crew chief Darian Grubb, leaving us to speculate what could happen. The team will also have a new part-time driver in their garage, Danica Patrick.





Genevieve is a freelance writer living on Lake Norman in North Carolina. She loves the night life, exercise, the practice of yoga, a healthy lifestyle, and spending quality time with her niece. You can follow her on Twitter at @C_Genevieve.




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