Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rating the Ford 400: 5 Stars *****

The greatest championship battle in the Chase era concluded in one of the most dramatic finishes possible. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards put on a show worthy of a 5 Star Rating to close out the 2011 season.

For years and years, everybody involved in NASCAR has dreamed of a race to the championship similar to what happened Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It happened once in 1992 when Alan Kulwicki barely beat Bill Elliot for the championship, and it happened again 19 years later as Stewart won his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Ironically, Kulwicki was also the last owner-driver to win the championship. Sure, Stewart might have a little more help than Kulwicki did, but this is still something that doesn’t come around very often.

Neither do races such as Sunday’s Ford 400. Edwards had a three point lead coming into the race, started on the pole, led the most laps and finished second. That sounds like an incredibly good weekend. Too bad Stewart, the only driver who could take the championship away, was the guy who finished first.

This race had everything, both good and bad. The championship was close, both drivers had great cars and ran extremely hard all day, it rained, several cars had engine problems and the title finally came down to, as everyone loves to say, “the final corner of the last lap at Homestead.”

NASCAR has tried for years to create a system that provides a final race full of tension, and that is surely what it got at Homestead. The Daytona 500 is usually one of the very few races throughout a season where fans have to consciously remember to breathe because the race is both exciting and important. Well, Sunday’s race had that same tension.

Both of the championship contenders also faced tension throughout the race. Edwards had to watch three Ford engines fail, knowing his could be next, and Stewart faced adversity all day starting with gaping hole in the grill after the first run of the race.

Stewart passed a mind-blowing total of 76 cars throughout the race. The #14 took several blows throughout the day, but Stewart managed to drive his way back to the front every single time. Plus, he did it in exciting fashion. At one point after a restart Edwards was on the high side and Stewart dove low to make it four-wide on the frontstretch. That is exciting racing even if the championship isn’t hanging in the balance.

There will always be debate about whether the car or driver matters more. But, with all due respect to both teams that prepared great cars throughout the Chase, it felt like Stewart and Edwards could’ve raced their cars to the front even if they didn’t contain an engine. Both drivers raced as hard Sunday as we will see any two drivers ever race.

To bring a fitting end to a terrific battle, Stewart and Edwards actually tied in the points standings, but Stewart won because he had five wins to Edwards’ one.

Most of the time fans want to see several drivers in contention to win a race, but having this one come down to just Stewart and Edwards was the best possible scenario. The rest of the field seemed to disappear for the final 37 laps, and that made a perfect setting to decide the championship.

So, now we head into the offseason. That is always a bittersweet sentence, but at least this year fans and people inside the sport can hang on to the excitement of the final race of the season.

This was a wonderful ending.

Thanks to all of the Monday Morning Crew Chief readers this season. Hopefully you have enjoyed the journey that is a NASCAR season. Check back for more end-of-season stories in coming days, and the rating for the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season is scheduled to appear Dec. 2 following the championship banquet.


  1. Great race and I'm so happy the guy with the most cajones to go out and win races actually won the Cup... I'd still like to see winning score at a higher level in the points system. If during the 2011 Cup season a win was worth 10 extra points while 2nd thru 5th received 4 points down to one point extra respectively, the same twelve drivers would have been in the Chase, the eventual champion would have been the same but the "consistent" "play it safe" driver would have been a long shot to win yesterday as he should have been...

    Irregardless of how they got there, this race between Stewart and Edwards is an instant classic...

  2. Dwindy1 - It was a fantastic race. I know lot's of people want wins to always mean more, but the championship would've been much less exciting this year if that was the case.

  3. I didn't think the race was 5 star quality - it was pretty boring for much of it unless you are a Smoke or Edwards fan and the rain delay didn't help...3.5 stars for the action on the track but 5 star finish in nascar's mind for sure.

    Thanks for all your great writing and reporting this year Mayer! Hopefully will see you in March at PHX.

  4. I always look forward to your take on the races JM! Sometimes your rating is a little higher than mine... but I agree with this 5 star award.