COMPLETE FORD 400 RESULTS
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - NASCAR's been around for more than 60 years but it's never been better than Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Ford 400 season finale was exactly the elusive "Game 7" the sport had been searching for and so much more.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards waged a championship battle like never before and might never be matched again, with a tiebreaker necessary to determine the title a first for NASCAR.
And they did it in the best way possible, going head to head with one another over the course of a dramatic 400 miles around the mile-and-a-half South Florida oval.
Like two heavyweight boxers, Stewart and Edwards traded body blows with one another swapping the point lead, maneuvering their way in and around traffic and then finally racing against each other for the checkered flag and the crown.
It was exactly what the week-long hype had promised and the duo delivered.
But even the combatants couldn't believe what transpired after they had time to reflect on what they'd both been through.
"I would compete with him in just about anything else to break that tie, if we could set up something," Edwards cracked when asked how it felt to have his entire season come down to a tiebreaker.
"But yeah, that's pretty amazing. I'm telling you guys, this is not -- I'm not just saying this because I didn't win the thing. But I think we could run this race ten times and it would -- it's a 50/50 deal. A little different pit stop, a little different restart here; you know, ten pounds of spring somewhere on this car, the race could have been a lot different -- not a lot different but the roles could have been reversed. I think it's just amazing."
While Stewart came out the victor ,even he had a hard time completely grasping the events of the night.
"We were confident coming in and didn't get down when we had trouble early," he said referring to damage that knocked a hole in the front end of Stewart's grille early in the race. "But you just never know what can happen out there and even though the car was fast, we had good strategy and I truly felt we could pull this deal off, until that checkered flag flew it's impossible to know how it's going to end."
After Stewart finally delivered the knockout blow, Edwards was left to ponder what might have been and how his ultimate disappointment might ultimately impact him going forward.
"It's been a battle," Edwards said as he tried to size up the experience. "As best I can, right now, if I step back, away from this, and look at it, and I say, okay, here are two guys, one of which has a lot more experience in these situations than the other. Won half of the races in the Chase. And the other guy, I mean, stood his ground, did a darned good job of forcing these guys to perform their best.
"I'm proud of that. And I think that what you just said, the fact that it was that way, that it just turned into this, you know, man-to-man battle, that was very interesting. That's something that you don't see in this sport. It shouldn't happen. It only, I believe, happened because subconsciously everybody on these teams just raised their level of performance."
The NASCAR season was raised to an off the chart level on Sunday that will be hard to top any time soon.
Martin Truex Jr. - He's the anchor of the newly-retooled Michael Waltrip Racing team and ended the season with a solid outing and a third place finish. Truex Jr. will be under the spotlight next year as MWR moves to its next level of operation and goes into the off-season with much-needed confidence.
Kasey Kahne - His impressive one year stay at Team Red Bull came to a close with yet another top ten finish in the Chase. Kahne's events place finish was the final calling card for team GM Jay Frye to bring in new investors to keep the organization on track next season.
Jeff Burton - There are reportedly some big changes on the horizon at Richard Childress Racing but Burton most likely would want to keep things status quo after the way he's ended the 2011 season. The veteran driver once again showed there's more in the tank with a solid tenth place finish on Sunday.
Kurt Busch - His dismal Chase ended only two laps into the season finale when Busch slammed the wall and was out of contention before the fans got settled into their seats. Busch had a transmission failure and as expected let his team know about his displeasure on the radio. Speculation that crew chief Steve Addington won't have to listen to Busch's tirades any longer picked up steam over the weekend with a new home at Stewart-Haas Racing reportedly awaiting him for 2012.
David Ragan - In what could be his last Sprint Cup race for a while Ragan appears to have been the sacrificial lamb of Roush Fenway Racing when his R&D engine expire before the 100 lap mark. With RFR scaling back to three cars next year due to lack of sponsorship, Ragan is looking for work and may wind up in either the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series in 2012.
Jimmie Johnson - He ended his championship reign with a whimper as Johnson left Homestead with a 32nd place finish after spinning out in turn three. While it was inevitable that Johnson's amazing run would come to a close, it was still surprising how uncompetitive he was in this Chase after some early success. There are rumors of a potential shake up at Hendrick Motorsports including speculation of crew chief Chad Knaus moving into a different position within the company but it would be a major shock if Johnson and company didn't return fully intact to try and start another title streak next season.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"They're going to feel like sh-- when we kick their a after this (damage)." - Tony Stewart after his initial trip to pit road for repairs
"They're REALL going to feel worse now after we win from the back twice." - Stewart after a second trip to pit road for a hung lug nut
"A little R&D and we just got the short end of this draw." - David Ragan after his fourth blown engine of the year sent him out of the race
"Motion the 22 driver to get it first gear and stop going at a grandma's pace!" - NASCAR official referring to Kurt Busch missing from grid when rain delay ended
"He's running into us, blocking us, effecting outcome of the race." - Carl Edwards on Kevin Harvick
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Ford 400 a five but I'm actually lobbying the bosses for an extra piston or two. Sunday's race wasn't just the best race of the season it was in the top five of NASCAR's all-time bests, which dates back more than 60 years. The epic championship battle between Stewart and Edwards came inside a race that regularly featured four and five wide racing and enough twists and turns for a full year. Sports don't get much better than what was on display Sunday night in Homestead and NASCAR as a whole can be very proud of the way the 2011 season came to a close.
Down the Road
The longest season in professional sports finally took the last checkered flag of the season and Sprint Cup 2011 is in the books. It will be remembered for a lot of things including competitiveness, first time winners, incredible points races and yes even some controversy. Jimmie Johnson's title reign is over and Tony Stewart is the driver to do it. Although cars won't be in competition for the next two and a half months, the off season will be anything but quiet or dull. Expect news and some surprises before Speedweeks rolls around in February to officially begin the 2012 NASCAR season.
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