Tony Stewart’s quest for a third title was derailed early when contact with debris—of origin unknown—punched a hole in the grille of his No. 14 Chevrolet the size of a small saucer. Stewart fell to 40th in the running order, while his crew made repairs under caution on Lap 17.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(November 20, 2011)
HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Tony Stewart won the biggest game of winner-take-all in the history of NASCAR racing.
Rebounding from a succession of setbacks, Stewart took the checkered flag in Sunday’s rain-interrupted Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in a tiebreaker over race runner-up Carl Edwards.
With four new tires to Edwards’ two—thanks to a strategic gamble that paid off when rain hit the 1.5-mile speedway for the second time on Lap 213 of 267—Stewart gradually pulled away after a restart on Lap 231 and claimed his third Cup title, bookending the five straight championships won by Jimmie Johnson from 2006-2010.
The victory was Stewart’s fifth of the season, his fifth 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races and the 44th of his career. The bonus points for winning allowed Stewart to make up a three-point deficit to Edwards. They ended the Chase tied at the top of the standings. Stewart claimed the title with five victories this season to Edwards’ one.
Martin Truex Jr. ran third on Sunday, followed by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
Stewart’s quest for a third title was derailed early when contact with debris—of origin unknown—punched a hole in the grille of his No. 14 Chevrolet the size of a small saucer. Stewart fell to 40th in the running order, while his crew made repairs under caution on Lap 17.
By Lap 32, Stewart had worked his way up to 23rd.
"They’re going to feel like (expletive), after we kick their ass after this," Stewart radioed during the run through traffic.
Dave Blaney’s spin off Turn 4 on Lap 34 halted the progress of the No. 14 Chevy. Stewart brought the car back to pit road under the yellow, and during a lengthy pit stop, his crew applied tape to hold the grille in place.
Stewart dropped to 38th in the process, but during a long green-flag run that included a cycle of pits stops, Stewart passed car after car, typically powering harder and farther into Turn 3 than any other driver on the track.
"They (Edwards’ team) are going to really feel worse when we’ve been to the back twice," Stewart said.
On Lap 67, Stewart passed Denny Hamlin for 12th.
"Where are we at in this contest?" Stewart asked crew chief Darian Grubb.
Told he was running 12th, Stewart replied, "Ah, yes, this is not over!"
True to his word, Stewart continued his charge toward the front of the field, and by the time rain forced a long delay 109 laps into the race, Stewart had climbed to fifth, with only Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Truex between him and Edwards, who picked up his 87th lap led right before the stoppage.