Stewart Wins Race And Title In Homestead
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Tony Stewart knew there was only one way he could assure himself of a third career Sprint Cup championship in the days heading up to Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400 Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway; win the race.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Stewart won Sunday’s race to pull even with Carl Edwards – who finished second at HMS – in points and was then awarded the 2011 championship on the tie-breaker; Stewart won more races than Edwards this season.
In winning the championship, Stewart became the first owner/driver to do so since Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992.
The victory was the fifth of the Chase and the season for Stewart, who also co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing. It came on a night when he had to overcome slow pit stops, a damaged grill which required dropping back to 40th place early in the race to fix, and a Roush Fenway Racing Ford driven by Edwards which led a race-best 119 of 267 laps.
“Oh my God. Are you kidding me?” Stewart said, fumbling for words in Victory Lane. “Just unbelievable. We said all week we had to go out and win and that’s just we did.”
Edwards, who had a huge lead over Stewart just before rain brought out a caution with 55 laps to go, finished second in the Chase for the second time in his career as he was runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in 2008.
“This night is about Tony Stewart, he rose to the occasion,” Edwards, who started the race three points ahead of Stewart, said. “That’s the hardest I could drive.”
It was not hard enough.
“I could not be more proud,” Stewart said. “We had the problem early and had the hole in the nose, everybody on this Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy team did a great job of getting it back going, then we had the contact with (David) Reutimann and had to come back in and fix it again. I told them “Man, it is really going to make these guys mad when we come back twice and still kick their butt”. It was optimism and trying to keep the guys pumped up and then to come out here and actually do it, is awesome.
Martin Truex Jr. finished third at Homestead. Matt Kenseth was fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth.
Edwards started the race from the pole and led the first 13 laps. On lap 13, light rain fell and the yellow caution
flag waved and the field pitted for work on the cars.
After a couple of more yellow-flag laps, Stewart pitted again. Debris had smashed in the grill cover of his Chevrolet.
But Stewart stayed cool and his team went to work during pit stops, taping a new grill cover over the damaged one. Stewart responded by steadily moving up from 40th-place. At just over the 100-lap mark, Stewart was back in the top-five.
Edwards, who led all but 22 of the first 100 laps, also had to be undergoing a bit of angst as two Fords – those of Marcos Ambrose and David Ragan – that the same Roush-Yates engines as did he, blew up. A third RYR engine would break with 75 laps to go when Greg Biffle suffered a problem, but Edwards’ Fusion kept humming.
On lap 106, rain started to fall again. This time the rain was heavy and on lap 109, the red flag waved. Edwards had the lead, Jeff Gordon was second, Kevin Harvick was third, Truex Jr. was fourth and Stewart was fifth.
After getting out of his car during the stoppage, Stewart prophetically told reporters, “We’re fixin’ to wear him (Edwards) out.”
The red flag flew for an hour and 14 minutes.
Teams rolled out under yellow and then pitted for service. Harvick came out first after changing just two tires. Gordon came out second, Edwards third and Stewart fourth after they all took four tires.
On the lap-118 restart, Gordon and Stewart blew past Harvick. Edwards soon followed.
On lap 123, Stewart passed Gordon and for the first time in the race, had the lead. Along with the lead came a bonus point.
On lap 130, Edwards passed Gordon for second place and the two contenders were running 1-2 and were
tied in points.
Five laps later, Trevor Bayne rubbed the wall and a caution came out.
The leaders pitted. Harvick again came out first, followed by Ryan Newman and Mark Martin. Edwards came out fourth but Stewart had a slow pit stop and came out ninth.
The race went green on lap 139 but on lap 142, defending champion Jimmie Johnson spun and the yellow waved again. The front runners stayed out and when the race restarted on lap 147, Harvick led, Truex was second and Edwards third. Stewart remained ninth.
On the restart, Edwards dropped to sixth and Stewart soon drove past into fifth.
On lap 152, Stewart passed Truex for the lead. Edwards was third.
On the next lap, a crash involving Trevor Bayne, Cole Whitt and Landon Cassill brought out another yellow.
During the pit stop, in which most of the front runners took two tires, Edwards moved up a spot. Stewart again had trouble in the pits and dropped back eight.
Jeff Burton restarted on lap 161 with the lead and Dale Earnhardt Jr. second after they opted not to pit.
Three laps later, when things settled down after the wild restart, Matt Kenseth led, Truex was second, Edwards third and Stewart fourth.
With 100 laps to go in the 267-lap event, that remained the running order.
With 95 laps to go, Edwards passed Truex for second and moved in on his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Kenseth, for the lead.
Two laps later, Edwards took that lead.
With 88 laps to go, Stewart passed Kenseth and moved into second place – 1.4 seconds behind Edwards.
With 70 laps to go, and Edwards leading Stewart by 1.3 seconds, green flag stops began.
Edwards pitted with 66 laps to go while Stewart and his team decided to gamble. They decided to try to stay on the track for enough laps to get to the point where they could make it to the end of the race on just one more pit stop.
Stewart pitted with 57 laps to go and suddenly the championship appeared to become a fuel-mileage affair. Stewart rejoined the race in 15th place.
But two laps later, rain began to fall and the caution flag waved giving Stewart and his team a huge break. Edwards had to pit for fuel.
When the race restarted with 38 laps to go, Stewart was third and Edwards was fifth. In front of Stewart was leader Kyle Busch and Keselowski.
On the restart, Stewart went low to go three wide with Busch and Keselowski. A couple of turns later, he took the lead, two spots ahead of Edwards.
With 33 laps to go, Edwards passed Keselowski to move into second.
With 30 laps to go, Stewart’s lead was 1 second.
Edwards was able to close on Stewart over the final 10 laps but fell back a bit in traffic and came up 1.3 seconds short.
He finally caught up to Stewart during Stewart’s victory lap. He reached inside Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet and shook the champs hand.
(This story will be updated shortly)
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment