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Tony Stewart raises the NASCAR Sprint Cup in victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   It was epic, the stuff of legend. And if you were here at Homestead Miami Speedway, you'll have something to talk about for years: Tony Stewart versus Carl Edwards, for the NASCAR championship.
   Stewart was downright brilliant. A.J. Foyt called it the best race Stewart's ever run. And Stewart agreed.

   Stewart was in a deep hole twice early, but still rallied….on a night when he and Edwards had equally matched cars.
   It was a bitter loss for Edwards, who lost the title to Stewart in 2005, and lost the title again in 2008.
   However Edwards was gracious and emotional in one of the most difficult moments of his career, losing the title, in a two-man show in which the rest of the field was only traffic.
   Stewart was jubilant and loquacious, and perhaps downright stunned himself at his team's dramatic turnaround over the past three months from mediocre to title heavyweights.
   "I had a lot of fun this year. I've been able to go off and race anywhere I wanted to this year, and I ran 30 races away from NASCAR….and when I'd  come back to this it was like a reset button," Stewart said.
   "I was finally having fun racing again."

   Now, after one of the greatest championship finales in NASCAR history, Stewart's come-from-behind charge, well, first comes the party….and then comes the long hard talk with crew chief Darian Grubb.
   Grubb has been Stewart's crew chief since Stewart took the helm of the Gene Haas team three years ago. Together now they've won 11 races, and the championship.
   But Grubb, after leaving Sunday night's victory lane, revealed that Stewart had told him one month ago, just after the Charlotte chase race, that Grubb would not be back with the team next season.
   Now what?
   Does winning the Sprint Cup championship change that dynamic? Since getting word of his imminent dismissal, Grubb has crewed Stewart to three tour victories in five starts...and the title.
   What next for Darian Grubb?
   "Well, the first thing is," Stewart said "is I'm going to get Darian drunk. Tomorrow if we can just pick our heads up off the floor without throwing up, I'm going to be extremely happy, but I'll worry about that tomorrow.
   "There's a lot of things in the off season and decisions that have to be made.  Obviously we wanted to get through this championship battle first, and we'll sit down as a group, obviously, this week and figure out the direction of our program.
   "But we are sitting up here as champions, and I don't think any of us are really too concerned other than having fun tonight and enjoying the accomplishment we have had over the last ten weeks."

    Even for Stewart, who has been around this sport for quite a while, this championship battle was something else: "The story line was pretty amazing:
   "You've got a guy who is leading the points, qualifies on the pole, and is dominating the first part of the race.
    "And you've got the guy that's the underdog, and the guy that's three points behind, and having to jump hurdles, and jump through hoops, to salvage the day. 
    "And then we come back. And when we had that red flag at lap 109, I'm sitting out there just laughing with the crew guys, and other crew guys are going 'What are you doing? What's going on here?'
    "I'm like 'Where else am I going to go?'  I don't have anything else to do. 
     "If I crash this thing on the way to the front, so be it. 
      "It wasn't that I was throwing caution to the wind.  We were trying to be calculating and methodical about what we were doing. 
     "But the story lines are total opposites:  You have the guy who's got the perfect race going, leading laps, or second or third, and right where he wants to be…and for the other guy it's like 'Man, can we get there from here?'
    "You feel like you have the big fish on the hook and you're running out of line and wondering if you're going to run out soon.
    "When we took the lead the first time I think it had to make him go 'How did they do that?'
    "Later he says 'They have come back from the back twice and are fifth now?'
     "You know he's thinking that.
     "118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race.  I don't care what series you're in, or where you're at. And to do it under the circumstances and the pressure we had, I'm very, very proud of that.
    "Man, I've been racing 31 years, I can't even remember some of the races I've won.  But I would have to say that under the circumstances, I've got to believe that this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life."
   Stewart may not have much time to bask in victory, though, because he says he's still got 'inventory' to sell – that is, Cup races for 2012 which he doesn't yet have sponsorship for.
   And he says he hopes this championship can help him persuade companies to sign on.
   The championship battle itself should help the entire sport – Carl Edwards, the physical fitness buff, versus Tony Stewart, who prides himself on his hamburger-eating prowess. "I'm proof that you don't have to lift weights and eat all the right food to win races," Stewart said with a laugh.
   That's the way Stewart has played the playoffs, with as many laughs as he can muster.

    Stewart won a boat as part of the victory. How about a good name for it, like Earnhardt's Sunday Money? "I just hope we don't get so screwed up tonight that I don't find the keys and try to drive it around the lake," Stewart cracked.
   The 'lake' he was referring to is the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
   For a guy who in late August said he didn't even deserve to be in the playoffs, Stewart has certainly turned things around, winning five of the 10 playoff races and beating Edwards for the championship – in a fall stretch in which Edwards averaged a sizzling 4.9 finish, best in the eight years of the chase and good enough any other year to earn the title.
   During the 1:15 rain delay, a red flag, drivers got out of their cars and walked pit road, and Stewart walked by Jack Roush, the Ford car owner who heads Edwards' operation. And Stewart told Roush "You'd better tell your driver to get up on the wheel. We're coming after him."
   Afterwards Stewart said, with another laugh, that Roush looked at him "like I had three heads."
   It was all part of Stewart's head games with his title rival. Stewart has been playing these games since that Martinsville surprise – when he beat Martinsville ace Jimmie Johnson head to head in the final miles to win, using a daring outside pass. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone pass like that on the outside at Martinsville," Stewart says.
    And after that win Stewart vowed Edwards – who dominated the Sprint Cup standings most of the year – wouldn't get any sleep these final weeks of the season.
   When Stewart backed that up by beating Edwards head to head at Texas two weeks ago, a track where Edwards felt he would be much stronger, Edwards seemed to sense something unusual going on here.
   Early in Sunday's race Stewart fell far behind for pit road repairs. But he quickly charged to the front, and radioed his crew that Edwards and Edwards' crew "they're really going to feel bad when we come back from this to win."
   Stewart never led the Sprint Cup standings until the checkered flag of the final race of the season. He came into the 400 just three points down to Edwards. And Stewart's game plan was simple – to try to win the race. That way he would win the title no matter what Edwards did.
   And that's precisely the way it played out: Edwards led the most laps, even started from the pole, and finished second. The only way Stewart could win the title was to win the race.
   And, man, did Stewart put on a show in doing just that.
   Ironically Stewart, despite the bravado, and the declaration that, since he'd locked up second place in the standings he had nothing to lose in the finale, so he could take chances and gamble, conceded afterwards he'd had trouble sleeping Saturday night:  "I was up to 230 this morning, because I couldn't sleep. I watched every stupid movie on TV….but I was having fun.
   "We had more to gain in this than we had to lose."
  And that Tony Stewart did.


Tony Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb and a few close friends....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Epic race. It put the joy

Epic race. It put the joy back into racing for me. Out shined the horrid shadow of being embarrassed to be a NASCAR fan, after the complete disrespect shown for Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden. I'm totally disgusted. Today at Homestead, NASCAR fans lived up to the stereotype of being ignorant and low class. Shame on them.

Sorry Mike, don't mean to

Sorry Mike, don't mean to hijack your article. Fantastic race! Kudos to Smoke and a huge cheer for the class act Carl Edwards has become.

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