HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Holy Smoke!
Tony Stewart earned his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship the same way he got himself back in the title hunt – by winning.
Despite battling from the back of the field twice early in the race, Stewart moved into the lead with 36 of 267 laps remaining and held off Carl Edwards to win Sunday night’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the series title.
Stewart and Edwards both ended the Chase for the Cup with 2,403 points, but Stewart won the tiebreaker by virtue of number of wins this season (Stewart has five, Edwards one).
A Cup title has never before been decided by a tiebreaker.
“It’s been a tough, tough summer and a tough fall for us and you got to believe in something and the man upstairs held the rain off long enough for us to get the job done,” Stewart said.
“We said all week we just go out and win the race (and) we didn’t have to worry about what (Edwards) did, and that’s what we did. If this doesn’t go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don’t know what will.”
Stewart entered the Chase without any wins in the first 26 races. But Stewart and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team opened the 10-race playoff with two consecutive wins. He struggled at Dover, Del., and Kansas, but he closed the Chase with finishes of eighth, seventh, first, first, third and first.
“There was no quit here and (crew chief) Darian Grubb and everybody on this team has just dug deep and never given up,” Stewart said. “I’ve got the best team in the business and it’s just awesome.”
Stewart becomes the first owner/driver to win a series title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 and the first series champion since the Chase format was adopted in 2004 to win the series finale.
Edwards entered the season finale with a three-point margin on Stewart. But the only way Edwards could guarantee his first series title was by winning Sunday’s race. He came up one position short.
“This night is about Tony Stewart,” Edwards said. “They beat us fair and square. That’s all I had at the end.
“I told my wife, if I can’t win this thing I’ll be the best loser NASCAR has ever had. So I’m going to try very hard to keep my head up and know that we’ll go next year and be just as hard to beat next year.”