Miami's Homestead Speedway is the site of the NASCAR finale. When the competitors arrived last week, there were only two in contention. Two men that could possibly wind up taking home the prize. They'd be on the track with 41 other drivers prepared to win the race, however it was down to the final two for the Championship. To make the story even more compelling, they were only separated by three (3) points. Consider that - each finishing position is one point less than the one above it, with a few bonus points being offered for leading a lap...and the most laps. Three points. Oh, and the leader, Carl Edwards, qualified first. The other, Tony Stewart, qualified in 15th position. I know, I know...I'm trying to explain so I can set the story up and it makes even more sense. Bear with me. So technically, Stewart had to finish 4 places (or more) ahead of Edwards. If Edwards finished anywhere above say, 5th, Stewart would have to win the race. As a matter of fact, the ONLY way Stewart could win the Cup and Championship, even if Edwards finished second, was to win. At that point, they'd be tied and Stewart had won more races during the season. He'd win the tiebreaker. Seriously, though - a tie? We all know the odds of that happening. Still, Stewart was taking no chances - he told his team and, well, the world, he was going to win the race. he was going to go out, spot Edwards 14 positions, and beat him for the Title.
Carl Edwards - the guy who once handed out business cards offering his services as a race car driver. True story. The same guy that appears in the Subway ads and with the Aflac duck. He has even, if anyone remembers his cameo, appeared on the series, "24," with Kiefer Sutherland. The guy gets around...and is a great race car driver. As a matter of fact, this is the same guy that, last year, went flying into the catch fence at Talladega as his car flipped several times in a violent crash on the final lap, only to get out of his car and run the last 200 yards to cross the finish line. great sense of humor. This year, though, Carl wanted to win a Championship....badly.
Tony Stewart, on the other hand, has always been racing. He's one championships in 9 different series of auto racing including, the year before he came to NASCAR full-time, the Indy-car series. Versatility, I believe they call it. He has already won the NASCAR Championship twice and he, too, badly wanted to win in 2011. In the end, it would come down to who could perform the best under pressure. Oddly, they both did. As I said, Stewart started 14 spots behind Edwards. He (stewart) let it be known immediately how badly he would challenge all day as he dropped out of line as the green flag flew and was side by side with three other cars - 4-wide, they said - going into just the first turn. He moved up a few spots and was headed to the front as they raced. Then, as the caution flag came out and the cars came to pit road, his crew discovered a hole in his grill. For anyone that is a fan that was watching, it spelled disaster. I remember using a few expletives as, even though it was early in the race, I was certain it was the end of his chances. The crew, however, didn't see it that way. They fixed the grill and Stewart returned to the track...in 40th position. Edwards? He was leading, of course. For some reason, though, Stewart remained calm. I think they call it, "focus." As they began racing again, he moved up in the standings. 40th....then 32nd...then 23rd....then....wait, what? How'd he get to 15th? This was a man on a mission and everyone watching will, one day, be glad they can say they witnessed it, if even on television. Again, though, something happened. Air wrenches got stuck and, when he came in to his pits leading, he left in 10th place...twice. With all things going wrong, it almost certainly was a sign he was not supposed to get to the front. He was going to have to settle for second place in the standings again. Notably, though, he remained calm. he kept his crew calm. The pressure, at least in his position, was nothing short of intense...yet he remained calm. A lesson in there? I'd say. You see, not only is he the driver of the team, he is co-owner. No one that owns a team has gone on to win as a driver in 19 years. As the race laps were winding down, all other cars came to their pits for tires and gas...except Stewart. If he could stretch his fuel mileage, he might be able to make it to the finish on one fewer stop than the others. We, the fans, sat transfixed...and screaming at the television for what seemed like a ridiculous move. There was no way he could come back once again and win this late in the race. The guy is 40, for goodness sake, and no one at that age has ever won a Championship, much less doing it by going from the back to the from several times. The funny thing was that, during the race when starting from the rear, Stewart remarked to his crew on his radio that, "They're really going to be embarrassed when we get up there and beat them from back here."
As the laps wound down and the controversial call regarding his fuel was forgotten, we watched, transfixed, at someone summoning the will to win. He would do what was needed to get the red and black Office Depot Chevrolet to the finish line before Edwards. He took the lead with 30 or 40-some laps remaining...and never relinquished it. He and Edwards (who was running in second behind him) were driving noticeably faster than the other cars. They were anywhere from .8 to 1.3 seconds apart, consistently, for the remainder of the race. On the final lap, somewhere between turns 1 and 2, Stewart radioed to his crew, "I got this,".....and he did.
Stewart crossed the finish line ahead of Edwards by about one second, as promised. The numbers told the story - they were, points-wise, tied for the Championship. Only 11 weeks ago, Stewart had not won a race for they year and told the media his team was merely taking up a spot in the Chase. They weren't doing well. He then proceeded to go out and, in a 10-week playoff Chase, win 5 of the races. In the end, he had passed a total of 118 cars on the day. He had come from the back of the pack twice. He became only the ninth driver to win the Championship three times. He became only the fourth driver to enter the final race out of the lead...then win it all....and he's now done it with two teams. This was the lesson of determination and will, of drive and intensity, and focus and promise. A great lesson for anyone in every aspect of life.
Carl Edwards? He was the other lesson on the day. As he just watched the Championship being wrestled from him rather than seeing it slip away, he crawled out of his car and had to face the media. In his words,