The battle lived up to the hype as Tony Stewart held off a hard charging Carl Edwards to score an historic win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 and the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Edwards and Stewart were the class of the field with Edwards leading the most laps on the night while Stewart overcame several setbacks to rally back for the win.
The victory was Stewart’s fifth in the ten Chase races and ended the season points in a tie. Stewart win the tiebreaker by having five victories on the season, to Edwards’ one.
After starting from the pole, Edwards quickly took control of the race while Stewart tried to make his way from deeper in the field from his 15th place starting spot.
The first hurdle for Stewart came early in the race when something punched a hole in the front of his Chevy, just after he made inside the top 10. The crew was able to repair it, but Stewart was left deep in the field in 40th. Shortly after Stewart was forced to return to the pits and lost the ground he had made up.
Driving like a man possessed though, Stewart charged through the field at one point telling his crew on the radio that everyone was going to feel bad when he charged back to the front.
By lap 100 Stewart was in the top five and knocking on the door for the top spot. The only thing that could stop Stewart was a heavy rain shower that forced a red flag for just over an hour.
After track drying Edwards and Stewart found themselves in the top five and ready to stage an epic race. Just after the restart a slow pit stop would force Stewart to comeback from eighth to assume the lead. Stewart and Edwards would swap the point with Edwards leading enough laps to clinch the bonus for leading the most laps.
In the closing stages, Stewart took the lead and began to try and save fuel. At one point he shut the engine off in his Chevy in an attempt to save enough fuel to stretch it to the point where he would only need one more stop over the course of the final 50 laps. The technique backfired however and Stewart was forced when he ran out of fuel.
The pit stop came just before a light rain shower forced the field under caution. During the drying process, Edwards pitted for fuel while Stewart stayed out to lead.
When the field got the green Edwards battled to the front making it as far as second. Stewart was able to hold him off however to score the win and the 2011 title.
“Oh my god, are you kidding me?” a jubilant Stewart said as the rain began to fall again. “I mean we said all week ‘just go out and win the race’. We didn’t have to worry about what (Edwards) did, and that’s what we did.”
The results were historic as it marked the first time since NASCAR began using a points system that a tiebreaker was needed at the end of the season. Stewart also became the first driver to come from behind to win a title by winning the final race of the season.
In all Stewart made 118 passes in a race that saw a record number of lead changes, 26, among 15 drivers.
For Edwards who came into the race with a three point lead, the end was bittersweet.
“I guess the only thing I’m able to take away from this that’s really positive,” Edwards said. “Is something I think is really important is that at least we know we can compete with any of these people.”
Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.