Stewart Secures Second NASCAR Title HOMESTEAD, Fla., (Nov. 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart finished 15th in the season-ending Ford 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was good enough to earn his second NASCAR Cup ...
Stewart Secures Second NASCAR Title
HOMESTEAD, Fla., (Nov. 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart finished 15th in the season-ending Ford 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was good enough to earn his second NASCAR Cup Series championship in the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The 15th place finish wasn't what Stewart or the team was looking for on Sunday night, but it was enough to clinch the title.
"It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done tonight," said a champagne-soaked Stewart. "We were way too tight. We would start off a little on the free side, but we could never get the balance quite right. We kept sneaking up on it, but we knew we were better off being a little too tight than a little too free, so we just made small changes. We could have done more to be more aggressive with it, but we did what we needed to do. We just kept our mind on the big prize. We knew we didn't have a car good enough to win tonight, so we just did what we had to do to win the championship."
After starting 20th, Stewart raced into the top-10 on several occasions as darkness fell over Homestead-Miami Speedway. But as the sun went down the track turned tight, as did Stewart's Home Depot machine, which necessitated an ongoing series of adjustments aimed at making the car loose enough to better handle the track's corners.
Stewart's closest championship rival, Jimmie Johnson, cut a tire on lap 125 and hit the wall in turns three and four, ending his night and his chances at the title. That left Carl Edwards as Stewart's main competitor, along with Edwards' Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle. Edwards had to win the race, lead the most laps and hope Stewart finished 21st or worse to claim the championship, while Biffle needed even more help to earn the crown.
Despite their best efforts, neither driver could overtake Stewart in the standings, as he and his Home Depot crew improved the race car with each stop. That's not to say there weren't some anxious moments, however.
As the race wound down, Stewart brought The Home Depot Chevrolet to pit lane under the green flag with 38 laps remaining and rejoined in 14th. The car seemed to go away after about 20 laps, and with 18 laps to go, Stewart began to fade. He was two seconds behind leader Casey Mears with 15 laps to go when a yellow flag waved for debris.
Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli talked it over and decided not to come in with the rest of the lead-lap cars. They pitted the next time by with the lap-down cars in an effort to gain five bonus points for leading a lap. But when the #07 car of Dave Blaney stayed out, Blaney became the leader instead of Stewart. Still, as the last car on the lead lap there was no penalty in pitting a lap later, and Stewart rejoined the race in 14th no worse for wear.
The #20 team's pit call , combined with the fact that Edwards came in and took four tires and dropped back in the field, made winning the title a simple matter of staying on the lead lap for the remaining 11 laps to the checkered flag.
Stewart did just that and earned another championship to go alongside the one he earned in 2002.
"I'm just excited," said Stewart. "I'm so happy that I could get Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) this championship and do it the right way for him. I put this team through hell in 2002, but they've never given up on me. It was nice to finally do one right and do it right for Zippy."
For his part, Zipadelli was proud of Stewart and his entire team.
"I couldn't be any prouder of Tony," said an emotional Zipadelli moments after the race ended. "We've been through some ups and downs, but being part of him maturing -- we won this championship because of him, his attitude, his winning ways and his efforts. He could win in any car out here. We're just happy to be part of it."
It was the second title for Zipadelli in seven seasons as a Nextel Cup crew chief - all with Stewart and the #20 team - and the third for Joe Gibbs Racing in the last five seasons. Bobby Labonte earned Joe Gibbs Racing its first championship in 2000.
Stewart's teammates - Denny Hamlin and Labonte - finished 33rd and 34th, respectively. It was Labonte's final ride for Joe Gibbs Racing, as he has signed with Petty Enterprises for 2006. Hamlin will return to the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup next season, alongside Stewart and new teammate J.J. Yeley.
For the season, Stewart finished with three poles, five victories, 17 top-five finishes and 25 top-10 finishes. He is the 14th driver in NASCAR history to win more than one Cup Series championship, but only the second active driver to do so, joining four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
Now with the racing season over, Stewart and his Nextel Cup brethren head to New York City for the annual awards banquet Dec. 2. Once there, Stewart will be honored, along with the rest of the top-10.
Greg Biffle won the Ford 400 for his ninth career Nextel Cup victory and his sixth this season, a series best. Mark Martin finished second, just 0.017 seconds back, while Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Casey Mears rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Dave Blaney, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield.