At the start of the race, it looked as if Carl Edwards would hold his points lead and go on win the Sprint Cup championship. Edwards started on the pole and led a race-high 119 laps. He did everything he needed to do to win the championship except for winning the race. His Roush Fenway teammates David Ragan and Greg Biffle had engine troubles early in the race, but thankfully for him, his engine survived, allowing him to finish in second position.
On Lap 117 the caution came out for rain, bringing out the red flag and delaying the race for nearly an hour. When the green flag waved again, it looked like a completely different race. Stewart became a man on a mission and wasn’t letting anyone get in his way, especially Carl Edwards. It took him six laps after the restart to pass Jeff Gordon for the lead. Stewart made evasive maneuvers, including three and four wide passes on multiple occasions to get to the front of the pack.
From that point on, the points lead was tied, with Stewart and Edwards running first and second on track. To win the championship, Edwards needed to win the race. Stewart, however, had other plans, going on to take the checkered flag. As a result, Stewart won the championship with the tiebreaker of having more wins than Edwards this season.
Stewart has been nothing short of amazing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, winning five out of 10 races in the chase. That’s Jimmie Johnson-like domination! Keep in mind that this performance came after Stewart said that he didn’t deserve a spot in the chase if his team wasn’t going to give championship performances. Stewart and his Stewart Haas Racing No. 14 team made the Chase, and changed their attitudes, proving to everyone that they deserved to be a championship contender.
Stewart is the only driver in NASCAR history to win a Winston, Nextel, and Sprint Cup championship in his career. He was also added to a very short list of drivers who have won the championship while driving for a team they own. He joins legends Alan Kulwiki and Richard Petty, becoming a legend of our era.
Although Edwards fell short of the championship, he has undoubtedly been the most consistent driver of the 2011 season. In his own words, he is the “best loser NASCAR has ever seen”. However, Edwards is anything but a loser and has been in championship contention for most of his Cup career. The chemistry between Bob Osborne and Edwards is one of the best driver/crew chief relationships NASCAR currently has.
If rumor serves correctly, Edwards will become the highest paid driver of the 2012 season, with good reason. Jack Roush believes in his ability to become a Cup champion, and did what he had to do to renew Edwards’ contract with Roush Fenway Racing. I am certain that Edwards will yet again, be a championship contender in 2012.