- Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 23:44
- Published on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 23:44
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With a victory in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart became the seventh champion to win the final race in his championship season. He out-dueled runner-up Carl Edwards in a finale befitting a championship showdown, tying Edwards in points, but winning the championship on a tiebreaker. Stewart’s five wins bested Edward’s one, clinching the title for Stewart.
Stewart won his first cup series Championship in 2002, and second in 2005. The Indiana native now joins David Pearson, Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Cale
Yarborough, all Hall of Fame members or inductees as three-time champions. Nine drivers in NASCAR Sprint Cup history have won three or more championships. Jeff Gordon has four. Jimmie Johnson with five, then there are Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships each. Any way you slice it, Stewart has joined a pretty exclusive group.
Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with Gene Haas, is the first driver-owner to claim the championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Stewart’s championship came during just his third year as a team owner.
Stewart failed to win a race during the 26-race regular season But he quickly caught fire, winning the first two races of the Chase, at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He went on to win five of the ten races that make up the Chase to set the record for the most Chase wins in a single season. Stewart now has won eleven times in Chase races, second only to Jimmie Johnson who has twenty Chase race wins. His outstanding Chase run brought Stewart’s career wins on the Sprint Cup Circuit to 44, tied with Bill Elliot for 15th on the all-time wins list.
The 2011 season was statistically the most competitive in the circuit’s 63-year history. Two major records were broken this past season. There was an average of 27.1 lead changes per race. There was also an average of 12.8 different leaders per race.
This season added five new drivers to the all-time winners list. A roster that grew to 182 in 2011. Trevor Bayne, at age 20, became the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Regan Smith notched his first career Cup win at Darlington in May. David Ragan won the July Daytona race, Paul Menard took the Brickyard 400 and Marcus Ambrose won at Watkins Glen.
Those statistics set the stage for a story-book Chase and a stunning season final race at Homestead in a race that featured a track record 26 lead changes. Tony Stewart actually passed 118 cars coming from the back of the field twice to earn the win and the title.
Unfortunately, it is not all good news heading towards 2012. The end of the 2011 season brought a dramatic spike in the number of unemployed in the racing community. Reportedly Roush Racing laid off as many 125 employees this past week, mostly from the No. 6 Car as Roush Fenway Racing will field only 3 cars on the cup circuit in 2012. David Ragan is the odd man out at Roush. Roush will reduce their Nationwide commitment from three full time cars to one full time and one part time Nationwide entry
Richard Childress Racing will also scale back their Cup effort from four teams to three. Kevin Harvick Inc. has folded its Nationwide operation into Richard Childress Racing so some of Childress’ former fourth Cup Car team employees may find work on the company’s two-car Nationwide effort. Kevin Harvick Inc.’s truck operation was sold to Eddie Sharp Racing.
Red Bull Racing will not be back in 2012. Kasey Kayne is moving to Hendrick Motorsport replacing Mark Martin who will split a ride with Michael Waltrip at Michael Waltrip Racing. Brian Vickers is reportedly looking for a ride. David Reutimann, once called “The Franchise” at Michael Waltrip Racing, was let go a couple of weeks ago.
Several car owners have found it necessary to cut back due to the slow economy because companies just aren’t spending advertising dollars like they used to. In the racing community as well as the general public, it looks like the number of laid off personnel is going to be significantly larger than the number of new jobs available.
You may reach Pete Barber at talkinracing@journalpress.