It went long, some of the speeches were a trifle wordy, and Jay Mohr was disturbingly mean, but in the end NASCAR wrapped up its season with quite a bash at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan.
Driver 20 racked up $6,173,633 from the points fund and $517,000 in contingency awards, which added into the prize money earned during the season, Stewart's total of $13,578,168 breaks the previous mark of $10,979,757 by Jeff Gordon in 2001.
It was a big week for Stewart who has often been called out for having a bad attitude with the media and all duties NASCAR related. But not this week. Stewart was pleasant, out and about, greeting the people and hanging with the crowd that makes the Nextel Cup series circuit move track-to-track week in and week out.
"I'm not going to give the checks back," he said "But we didn't start racing because we thought we'd be collecting a big check at the end of the season. We did it for the thrill of winning races and, at the time I started racing, wanting my trophy to be bigger than the next guy's trophy."
The rest of the top ten was also on hand to celebrate Stewart, collect their own checks and trophies and make special notice to usher out Rusty Wallace who is now retired from the Cup series.
Wallace earned the 1989 series championship and won 55 races in a 26-year Cup career. He finished eighth in his final season. "Making the Chase was really cool, making it to New York was the proper way to end it."
Mohr, the comedian on hand to officiate the event, also took the time to give Wallace a good ribbing; hauling out pictures of the past champ where he curiously seemed to resemble a young Art Garfunkel.
Jeff Gordon who was 11th in points was unable to attend so actor Will Ferrell took to the stage in his stead, "Whoo...11th place. Yeah." Gordon also sent a video taped acceptance speech from Paris where he is competing in the annual race of champions.
The night's final crescendo was the champions' party in the Grand Ballroom of the famed hotel. Once off camera, it was time to let loose and toast Stewart for the final time before preparations begin for the 2006 season.
I'm a happier person," he said. "I've learned how to deal with a lot of things and, this year, I just wanted myself and my team to have fun. I owed that to these guys after they hung with me for all these years."