Tony Stewart Wins Crazy 2011 Cup Series Championship…on a Tie-Breaker?

  • in 2011, Tony Stewart would wind up tying Carl Edwards for most points earned in the full 36-race season, including the playoffs, with 2,403 points each.
  • For the first time in NASCAR history, because of the points tie between Stewart and Edwards, the series would have to move to the first tie-breaker to determine the champion.
  • Edwards would retire from the sport five years later, and without a Cup championship.

    Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Cup championship in 2011 wound up being one of the craziest season finales the sport has ever seen.

    First, Stewart would win the season-ending race—in front of First Lady Michelle Obama and future First Lady Jill Biden, no less.

    While in most cases, Stewart’s win would be enough to clinch the championship, for the first time in NASCAR history, it wasn’t enough.

    Stewart would wind up tying Carl Edwards for most points earned in the full 36-race season, including the playoffs, with 2,403 points each. And, again for the first time in NASCAR history, because of the points tie between Stewart and Edwards, the series would have to move to the first tie-breaker to determine the champion.

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    Tony Stewart, left, and Carl Edwards were all smiles before the championship finale in 2011.

    Mike EhrmanGetty Images

    This one would be a much simpler determination. Including his season-ending win, Stewart would capture five victories in the 2011 campaign, while Edwards earned just one win (ironically, Edwards had led the point standings for much of the 26 races in the regular season, with his lone win coming early in the season in Las Vegas).

    As a result, Stewart’s quintet of wins vs. Edwards’ sole win would be end of story when it came to determining the overall champion.

    It would be Stewart’s third and final Cup championship (other years were 2002 and 2005). Meanwhile, it would be the closest Edwards would ever come to winning a Cup crown – although in a five-year stretch of also running full-time in the Xfinity Series from 2006 through 2010 (as well as Cup), Edwards finished runner-up four different times and won the championship in 2007.

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    And in a twist that made a crazy finish to the 2011 NASCAR Cup season even crazier, Tony Stewart’s crew chief was let go after the season.

    Jared C TiltonGetty Images

    And then came what was ultimately the strangest aspect ever seen in a Cup championship, period.

    For when Stewart, co-team owner Gene Haas and crew chief Darian Grubb all climbed upon the podium at the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center, they all had the longest faces ever seen on any championship winners. If you didn’t know better, you’d have sworn they had just LOST the championship instead of winning it.

    The reason: in arguably one of the best-kept secrets the sport has ever had, it was revealed in the post-race press conference that Grubb would not be returning the following season to help Stewart defend his crown.

    In essence, Grubb had been fired.

    Now, there was nothing nefarious nor had he violated any team rules. Rather, Grubb had been told after the fifth race of the playoffs—the mid-point of the 10-race Cup playoffs—at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he would be released at season’s end.

    Who knew, though, that after failing to win even one of the first 26 races, Stewart would go on to win five of the 10 playoff races en route to winning the championship, snapping Jimmie Johnson’s record of five consecutive Cup crowns from 2006 through 2010 .

    And even though it would be Grubb that would help engineer Stewart to the wins and the title with excellent pit strategy, Haas was the kind of old school owner who, once he made up his mind, there was no changing it. Even though Stewart would ultimately win half of the playoff races, Haas refused to back down on his decision to fire Grubb.

    And no matter how much Stewart complained, because he only had an equity stake in the team, whereas Haas was the money man, Stewart’s bid to change his partner’s mind fell on deaf ears.

    The then-still-winless Stewart even quipped after the regular season finale at Richmond that “we don’t belong in the playoffs” because of the team’s overall lousy performance and record up to that point.

    Then came one of the greatest comebacks in NASCAR history, as Stewart won the first two playoff races (Chicago and New Hampshire), and then three of the final five.

    “If someone said (before the Chase) we were going to win a race or five races, I would have lost every bet,” Stewart said. “We were like the Bad News Bears. We were the team no one thought we had a shot at the beginning (of the Chase). We battled adversity and just kept fighting.”

    “We were like the Bad News Bears.”

    While there have been a few drivers who have moved on to new teams after winning a championship, for the first time in NASCAR history – a mark that remains today – the winning crew chief was fired, indirectly and in essence, for winning the championship.

    There wasn’t much to console Edwards, even though he led the most laps of any driver (119 to Stewart’s 65 laps led) in the season finale. He just came up one point short.

    “It’s so unbelievable,” Edwards said. “It was like a movie. … We did the best we could and were one point shy. That’s just how it is. It’s neat to be a part of something like this, but it’s not neat to lose.”

    Somehow, the same could also be said for Grubb, because even though his team won, he himself—like Edwards—still ultimately lost.

    Follow car week contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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