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Williams: Stewart vs. Edwards A Modern Classic

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 21 2011

Carl Edwards offers congratulations to Tony Stewart after Sunday's season-ending Ford 400. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

For nearly two decades the NASCAR community has cited the intense 1992 season finale title bout at Atlanta between Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott as a legendary race. Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway another season-ending event, this one between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, assumed its place in the history-making ranks.

Sunday’s 2011 season finale was reminiscent of the Kulwicki-Elliott duel in every respect. Yet, it created its own special place in history as the only time since NASCAR was founded in 1947 that the tie-breaker had to be used to determine the series champion.

Edwards’ approach was consistency; Stewart’s was winning. In the end, Stewart’s strategy rewarded him with his third Cup title. That, however, wasn’t the lone historical aspect of Stewart’s championship.

It also:

– Made him the first owner/driver since Kulwicki to win the series championship and one of only three owner/drivers to accomplish the feat. The other one being Richard Petty.

– Made him the only driver to have Winston Cup, NEXTEL Cup and Sprint Cup titles on his racing resume.

– Gave him the distinction of being the first driver to win under the new point system; the first since the previous one was implemented in 1975.

– Provided him with the distinction of being the driver who ended Jimmie Johnson’s five year championship reign. In fact, Stewart bookends Johnson’s titles as his second championship came in 2005.

However, the fact that probably will be remembered by most people who watched this year’s Chase, especially the final race, was that Stewart claimed his third NASCAR title the old fashioned way – he earned it. He didn’t play it conservatively nor bet on someone else’s poor performance.

From the time he won the first two races in the 10-event Chase, Stewart sought only one thing every weekend – a victory. And it was his third victory at Martinsville, Va., in the Chase’s seventh race that set the stage for the three-week stretch run. It was then that Stewart’s swagger returned and he set his sights on becoming Edwards’ worse nightmare.

The Columbus, Ind., native noted that entering the season finale he and his team had nothing to lose, everything to gain and that made them dangerous. He was right, taking his fifth victory in the Chase at Homestead. That means half of the Chase races were won by Stewart!

At Homestead, Edwards led the most laps, easily running at the front. Stewart, meanwhile, fought back from early damage to his car’s grill and left front fender and equipment problems on two pit stops. At one point, he was 40th, but on the restarts Stewart didn’t hesitate to dive into the corner three wide. Once, Stewart and Edwards even raced four wide with Stewart low and Edwards high. By the time the race concluded, Stewart had passed more than 70 cars during the event. Edwards had done everything he could, but it simply wasn’t enough. Stewart did exactly what he said he would and emerged with the championship.

The two men settled the championship on the track the grassroots way – clean, hard racing with no one but the two of them determining the outcome. And when it was over, Edwards handled the immeasurable disappoint with class. History, no doubt, will define the day as legendary.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 21 2011
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