NASCAR and Las Vegas honor the Chase drivers and Champion Tony Stewart

The 2011 Championship team: Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner
Gene Haas, Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb.
Champions Week in Las Vegas has been an exciting week, starting with the “Not So Newlywed Game” and culminating with a beautiful evening at the Wynn honoring Tony Stewart and the other top-10 Chase drivers.

After years of complaints and grumbles from fans and guests, NASCAR finally found the perfect hostess for the evening – Reba McEntire, who now goes by her first name. Not only is she gorgeous and funny, but as I found out last night, her son is a racecar driver. And the zinger of the night: "Earlier I was out front and saw Kyle Busch drive right past the valet," McEntire said. "Well, I guess NASCAR officials are only allowed to park his car." Please have her back for many years to come. 

The entertainment for the evening was as fabulous as ever. Kid Rock stole the show with “Born Free." Playing a dual role as host and entertainer, Reba hit the stage singing “Turn on the Radio.” Also taking the stage for performances were The Jersey Boys, who opened the show, and Ella Mae Bowen sang a remake of “Holding Out for a Hero.”

When the Champion was announced, Jimmie Johnson headed out, to the chuckle of the crowd. Johnson could not pass up his old seat, which I am sure still has his imprint from the past five years. After the brief chuckle, Stewart was announced and took his place at the head table, where Johnson graciously pulled out his chair for him.

The top-10 Chase contenders all make speeches, and honestly I was hoping for a bit more humor like we have seen in years past. This year was very cut and dry, although Matt Kenseth did cut one or two jokes; one flew over everyone's head and Carl Edwards had to later explain. Come on, lighten up everyone, this is a celebration! I know you want to thank your sponsors, etc., but do that and crack a joke or two. I would say, “I would like to thank Coca-Cola, who I swig before every race. Because of them, it’s about Lap 250 that I really go fast cause I GOTTA GO!” Other option: “I would like to thank Burger King, oops that note came from my cardiologist.”

A “nugget” from the banquet: did you know that finishing 7th marked Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best points finish since 2006? I am sure Junior Nation knew that, but not everyone may have.

A special shout out to Chase newbie Brad Keselowski; it’s been a big week for Keselowski. The sights (and drinks) of Las Vegas are overwhelming for anyone, but he pulled off a great speech without a teleprompter. The nervous energy was evident in Keselowski (take note of the hand clapping).

Kenseth wished he knew there was no comedian for the evening, he would have offered his service. (Follow him on Twitter, he is a riot!) He said, “It sucked getting beat, but it was fun to watch.” Kenseth, along with many drivers, paid tribute to the fans, who keep our great sport thriving. Kenseth did sneak in a joke which needs clarifying by teammate Edwards. Thanking his sponsors, he thanked Fluidmaster, “glad we finished No. 1 in that car instead of No. 2,” he said. The joke fell on deaf ears. As Edwards explained, Fluidmaster is a toilet company. Get it now?

Edwards winged (pun intended) his speech.
Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
Although the evening was to honor Tony Stewart, the longest speech of the evening (besides Stewart’s) had to be from Carl Edwards. (I have to add a personal kudos to Edwards for joining Keselowski in not reading from a teleprompter!) Edwards said, “It means a lot to finish second to a guy who is a champion, who rose to the occasion and had the best Chase of his career, the best Chase anyone will probably every have.” After his laundry list of sponsors and personal thanks, Edwards recounted the moments since Homestead. His wife, Dr. Kate Edwards, was first to the car after the race, but the moment of hilarity came as Edwards explained the time since that final race. Fans have come up to him saying they are sorry he did not win, but with Kate by his side, she stands there and nudges him, saying “Dammit you tied, you tied!” Edwards concluded by saying he is looking forward to the amazement of 2012.

The long evening concluded with Champion Tony Stewart being present with his Championship ring from NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France. As Stewart took to the podium, his opening remark was, “I was afraid I would have to have a speech for 2012, I am alright with doing that, too,” alluding to Edwards' long speech. Stewart took a moment to praise Edwards.“Buddy, I can promise you, you are a winner. You are never going to be a loser,” said Stewart to a round of applause.

Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images 
“I never thought being a set of bookends would be such a gratifying feeling,” Stewart said referencing his pre- and post-Johnson era wins. “I appreciate you letting me borrow you chair for tonight,” Stewart joked to Johnson, who had a new view last evening.

Thanking those who have made his job possible, a poignant moment came when Stewart thanked championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb. Stewart credited Grubb with the success of Stewart-Hass Racing and said, “I would not have wanted to do it with anyone else. You have been my buddy and my friend, a great crew chief for three years and I am very appreciative for that and everything that you have done. I cannot say thank you enough.”

Grubb was told four races into the Chase that he would not be returning as crew chief, and is fielding job offers from other teams.

Stewart took time to thank Rick Hendrick, who supplies his engines and numerous others who have made this year possible for him.

During interviews leading up to the banquet, Stewart said he had promised all 160 employees of Stewart-Haas Racing that if they ever won a championship, he would take them all to Las Vegas. The champ delivered on that promise.
NASCAR and Las Vegas honor the Chase drivers and Champion Tony Stewart NASCAR and Las Vegas honor the Chase drivers and Champion Tony Stewart Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, December 03, 2011 Rating: 5