ON NASCAR: Race of His Life: Stewart Chases Edwards, History

By Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
When 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart was looking for an apt comparison for his battle with Carl Edwards – which literally came down to the last lap of the final race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway – he went to the Bible. “I appreciated that championship battle. It was a David versus Goliath battle to the end,” he said. 

Goliath, as you may recall, was an unstoppable giant who thwarted all efforts to subdue him until David, armed with little more than faith, determination and a bag of rocks, delivered a blow to the head that brought him crashing down at last. 

The biggest question in regard to Stewart’s analogy might be, which driver is which? Is it really possible that Stewart, who has now joined NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty and Darrell Waltrip on the list of drivers with three Cup Series titles, could have seen himself as the long shot for the championship?

That could be the case. “I would have lost every bet in the world if people would have said when we got in the Chase that we were going to win a race, or we were going to win five races and win this thing; I would have bet against us,” he admitted. 

Edwards was a fierce foe, to be sure. At Homestead, he did everything humanly possible to protect his three-point lead over Stewart, winning the pole and dominating the early part of the race. The championship outcome seemed to be almost a foregone conclusion even before the halfway point of the race, as problems with Stewart’s car forced him outside the top 30 twice, while Edwards enjoyed the view from the front of the field. 

In this scenario, Goliath may have been not Edwards, but the situation itself. There were 42 cars on the track with Stewart, and he had to pass most of them more than once to work his way forward. To be exact, he went by 118 cars on the way to his fifth win in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup battle. “Man, I feel like I passed half the state of Florida,” he said. 

When he passed Edwards, who finished second in both the race and the final driver standings, the deal was virtually done. Stewart took the title, joining first-time champions Austin Dillon (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NASCAR Nationwide Series) as the top dogs of 2011. 

A couple of important things to remember about long shots is that first, in order to win, they must have very good aim, and second, they generally have to deal with the issue of low expectations. At times, it seemed that NASCAR fans, who have enjoyed watching Stewart excel for years, had more faith in him than he had in himself. But he has acquired his reputation for toughness legitimately, and when the going required it, he came through. 

“We were in the perfect scenario of coming into this weekend with no possible shot of losing anything. There was nothing to lose, and there was everything to gain,” he said. “It takes so much pressure off when you know that if anything happens, you are not going to be any worse than second ... It's a dangerous combination when you give a guy a shot at something and he can't lose anything.” 

Win-win situations are rare, indeed, but the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season gave us just that. The edges of our seats are worn completely out. From conflict and controversy to first-time winners to the reemergence of some of our favorites, it has been one for the record books as well as the history books. 

Either of the two popular drivers left standing at the end would have served NASCAR admirably as its champion. But in the end, there could be only one. It seems an odd but appropriate coincidence that David brought Goliath down armed with five smooth stones, while five smooth wins during the 10-race Chase propelled Stewart to his own giant victory. For the new champion, it has been an unforgettable story. 

“I've been racing 31 years; I can't even remember some of the races I've won,” he said. “But I would have to say that under the circumstances, I've got to believe this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life.”

On a humorous side note, winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway earned Stewart something more than prize money and accolades. The winner’s trophy was a sleek, 400-horsepower Contender fishing boat. When asked about potential names for his new vessel, Stewart laughed and said, “Maybe we'll call it ‘Hope We Don't Screw Up.’”

Mission accomplished.      * * *   Cathy Elliott, the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway, is a syndicated columnist for NASCAR and author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” (for David M. Kinchen's review on this site:http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/100423-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html). Contact Cathy at.cathyelliott@hotmail.com

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