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Stewart's unstoppable charge to glory

Tony Stewart recovered from early adversity and proved an irresistible force of nature, storming his way to victory in the final race of the season to clinch the 2011 title.
If truth be told, not every race in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been all that gripping. Too many fuel mileage races, too many rain delays, too much in the way of drafting antics. But the season finale Ford 400 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway wiped away any such memories, with one of the most gripping and exciting climaxes to a championship that we've seen.

Stewart had to recover from early problems to fight his way from the back of the grid, then gambled on a risky fuel strategy that was instantly upset by late rain that threw all the plans out of the window and left him in a head-to-head battle with Carl Edwards for the race victory - with the winner also collecting the 2011 championship.

In the end, Stewart was simply too strong for Edwards. But it took the drive of Smoke's life to put the #14 into victory lane and to get his name etched into the Sprint Cup trophy, and he drove with a demonic intent he'd never shown before to become a three-time NASCAR champion.

"I could not be more proud," he said as he celebrated in victory lane with the team that he co-owns with Gene Haas. "Just could not be more proud of our guys and our organization. Everybody: Ryan Newman, my teammate, everybody.

"It's been a tough summer and a tough fall for us and you've got to believe in something," he continued. "The man upstairs held this rain off just long enough for us to get this job done. Thanks to all the fans who stuck it out all weekend here at Homestead. Oh, my! I don't care how long it rains; I'm going to be up all night tonight!"

The pre-race hype had been predictably over the top, promising a final confrontation between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards to put all other such showdowns in the shade. Hyperbole, of course - but for once, the reality didn't let the fans down. Starting from pole position, Carl Edwards had a fairly easy time of it over the opening stint, leading through to the pit stops on lap 34 under a debris caution, but then losing the top spot to Brad Keselowski when his tyre changer slipped on some fuel in the pit box. No matter, Edwards was back in front a dozen laps later and led from there through the next caution (for David Ragan blowing up) and after the next round of pit stops, and was still in front of the race when a rain shower swept in and forced a red flag on lap 110. The stoppage lasted for more than an hour and would eventually mean that the end of the race was pushed into an after-dark floodlit finish.

It had proved to be a less easy time of it for Tony Stewart, however. When he came in for his first pit stop under an early brief rain caution on lap 13, the pit crew found a big hole in the #14's front grille - thought to have been caused by bits dropping off the #22 of Kurt Busch, which had suffered a suspected transmission or drive shaft failure just four laps into the race. It was just as well that this early rain caution lasted a while, because Stewart had to make repeated visits back to pit lane to get the problem sorted out and duly started from the back of the field in 40th place. He was lucky not to be a lap down as well.

“They're going to feel like **** after we kick their ass after this,” Stewart radioed in after this setback, sounding somewhere between crazily confident, outright possessed and borderline insane.

He'd worked his way back up through a dozen positions by the next caution, and once again he needed a lengthy visit to pit road after further crunching the nose on the rear of David Reutimann's car - "They're are going to really feel worse when we've been to the back twice [and still win],” chipped in Stewart. Repairs done, he was at the back of the field again and spent the next portion of the race working his way up steadily and surely, so that by the time the red flag came out for the long rain delay he had just cracked the top five for the first time in the race.




Related Pictures

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Coors Light Pole winner Carl Edwards leads the field to the green flag in the Ford 400 season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Todd Warshaw, Getty Images for NASCAR]
Tony Stewart`s crew goes to work on the front of his No. 14 Chevrolet after he sustained damage from debris in the early going of the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Todd Warshaw, Getty Images for NASCAR]
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards go four-wide on the frontstretch in a frantic battle for position in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Tom Pennington, Getty Images for NASCAR]
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson spins in the fourth turn as Juan Pablo Montoya takes evasive action at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Tom Pennington, Getty Images for NASCAR]
Tony Stewart emerges from his No. 14 Chevy in Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway after winning the Ford 400 and claiming his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Chris Graythen, Getty Images]
Tony Stewart races under the chequered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the Ford 400 and register his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday, Nov. 20. [Photo Credit: By Todd Warshaw, Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, July 27, 2014 the Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gordon, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings, has won at the Brickyard a record 5 times, the first one in 1994. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, July 27, 2014 the Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gordon, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings, has won at the Brickyard a record 5 times, the first one in 1994. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates his win Sunday, July 27, 2014 of the Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gordon, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings, has won at the Brickyard a record 5 times, the first one in 1994. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, kisses the Brick after his win Sunday, July 27, 2014 of the Brickyard 400 Nascar Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gordon, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings, has won at the Brickyard a record 5 times, the first one in 1994. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
The #24 Axalta Chevrolet crew celebrates in pit lane after driver Jeff Godron`s victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, salutes the fans after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, center, celebrates with team owner Rick Hendrick, left, daughter Ella Sophia and wife Ingrid Vandebosch by kissing the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars into the pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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T - Unregistered

November 21, 2011 8:35 PM

Delighted that Tony won, but what a dire points system ! How can a driver who has won half of the chase races - 5 out of 10 - finish level with a driver (Carl Edwards) who did not win a single chase race ? - something dreadfully wrong there. The best driver won - to come back from 40th and to win was amazing.



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