Stewart Not The Only Big Winner In 2011

Charlotte, NC (November 21, 2011) – Tony Stewart wound up holding the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy, but everybody went home a winner from Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday.

Stewart’s epic drive to his third career Cup title at Homestead punctuated one of NASCAR’s most compelling campaigns ever. Here’s a list of who came out on top this season.


Sunday’s race – Stewart and championship runner-up Carl Edwards finishing 1-2 at Homestead, tying for the title with Stewart taking the crown based on victories this season – was such a big hit that it pushed the 10-0 Green Bay Packers and the NFL off the lead slot on ESPN Sunday evening’s Sportscenter.

That’s huge.

You can be sure there are a lot of roosters crowing at 1801 Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach, FL today.

The past five seasons haven’t always been good for NASCAR as a new car, a sudden downturn in the economy, the sameness of five-straight championships by Jimmie Johnson, and fickle public tastes caused a downturn in the sport.

After 2011 and it’s sterling conclusion at Homestead, that’s all in NASCAR’s rearview mirror.

Admittedly, there’s still a ton of work to be done. The economy still sucks. Getting cash-strapped fans to the tracks will continue to be a challenge. Other issues such as cost control to the teams, a new fuel injection system and of course, following up a 2011 season for the ages are squarely in NASCAR’s windshield.

Still, the bottom line for NASCAR is Sunday’s Homestead race was like a World Series game seven where the title was decided on a home run in the bottom of the ninth – or the Super Bowl coming down to the final play.

The sport couldn’t have had a better finish in terms of exposure eyeball on every level – fans, media, current and potential marketing partners.

Because of all of this, NASCAR – not Tony Stewart – was the biggest winner Sunday.

Tony Stewart –

Duh, of course Stewart is a big winner this season. He wound up holding the trophy, didn’t he?

If you dig a little deeper, however, you see that Stewart won on multiple levels Sunday.

As a driver, Sunday’s race validated the now 40-year-old Indiana fireplug is still one of the best wheelmen in the business. Stewart’s charge from the back of the pack after a couple of early problems was as good as it gets.

Stewart willed his car to the front, did everything from going four-wide to idling back saving fuel for the finish. At the end, he set his cruise on stun and outdistanced Edwards – the fastest, most consistent car in the event – to win the race and the championship.


Stewart also validated his ownership of Stewart-Haas Racing Sunday. The first owner-driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992, Stewart now commands the championship-winning team, one that adds Danica Patrick next season. Both additions should help alleviate some of the obstacles to securing the funding needed to continue to keep the team up front in future seasons.

Finally, Stewart got the media off his back – at least for a little while. They will be singing his praises now, just three short months and a dozen races or so after they were grilling him about not winning any races this season.

After a record five wins in 10 Chase events, those questions seem sillier now than they did in August.

Of course, it is Tony Stewart, so don’t expect the current media love fest over the championship to last long.

Carl Edwards –

Rarely in this writer’s more than 25 years of covering all sports – football, baseball, basketball, auto racing, you name it – has there ever been a more gracious competitor than Carl Edwards.

Edwards drove his guts out in the Chase, posted the highest finishing average ever (4.9) in the history of the 10-event raceoff, and didn’t win championship. On Sunday, he led the most laps, did everything he needed to do to win, and in the end came up second on the racetrack and in the standings to Stewart.

As has been his style all season, Edwards was eloquent in defeat, magnanimous in congratulating Stewart, humble in describing his accomplishments and heartfelt in his disappointment.

Edwards proved Sunday that there is no defeat in finishing second – or any other place for that matter if you handle it like a champion.

Thankfully, Edwards is going to be in NASCAR for a long time yet. He’s exactly the face the sport needs right now – talented on the racetrack and marketable to the 10th-power off of it. That’s a really good thing for both Edwards and the sport.

The Fans –

While the NASCAR mantra is that the fans come first, that hasn’t always been the case in recent years.

In 2011, however, NASCAR delivered and the fans got their money’s worth

If you start at the finish, how could Sunday’s championship event have been any better? Heck, NASCAR even arranged for extended red- and yellow-flag periods to stretch out the suspense.

Seriously, the 2011 season had just about everything. A total of 16 different drivers won races, eight of them scoring more than one victory. First time winners included Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500 and Regan Smith in the Southern 500, two of the sport’s iconic races.

Crazy good stuff.

Meanwhile, multiple events roared down to nano-second finishes and when it came to action, there were enough on- and off-track driver confrontations to fill a full World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view special event.

Long-time NASCAR fans, not those who whistle in and out of the sport depending on which way the wind is blowing, got treated to something very special this season.

Front the first race at Daytona to the nightcap at Homestead, it was a great year to be a NASCAR fan.

Last Call –

After hitting the road in late January for the Toyota All-Star Showdown in Los Angeles, the 2011 season finally ended for this writer in Homestead this weekend.

In all, I headed to the track 25 times this year. Along with tests and other racing-related business trips, I was on the road more than 30 weeks in 2011.

To say it will be nice to be home for a little while is an understatement.

That said, here’s to everyone who packs their bags every week and heads to the racetrack. Enjoy the time off from being on the road.

Happy Holidays to all, another racing season is in the books.

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