Tony Stewart didn't do it in spectacular fashion. But he did it. His race car left something to be desired, so he played it safe, ran for points and when all the scenarios had played out, it was Stewart on top by 35 points. NASCAR Nextel...
Tony Stewart didn't do it in spectacular fashion. But he did it. His race car left something to be desired, so he played it safe, ran for points and when all the scenarios had played out, it was Stewart on top by 35 points.
Stewart raised the ire of the media and fans in 2002 after two incidents: one with a race fan and one with a photographer, which drained Stewart of money and points on his way to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
"I put the team through a lot of hell," Stewart described. "But they have never given up on me. We sat down at the end of last year and had a team meeting to see if I was even going to stay with the team, if they wanted me back or not.
"We just had a heart to heart and so many times this is what teams have to do to get on track. It was just nice to do it right tonight."
In 2005 it was definitely a kinder gentler Tony Stewart. The rage and distaste for all things NASCAR was still bubbling under the surface, but Stewart managed to find a different outlet to express his aggression with the microscope NASCAR's elite drivers are forced to live under.
A chubbier, joke cracking, wise-ass surfaced. Despite a few moments of disgust here and there, Stewart for the most part met the demand of being the NASCAR Nextel Cup point leader with a skip in his step.
It was a dominating season for Stewart winning five races and racking up 24 top-10 finishes on his way to his second Cup series championship and third for team Joe Gibbs Racing. Under the old point system Stewart would have been crowned the champion after Phoenix but with the new Chase format it was anyone's trophy heading into Homestead even though he truly had the edge.
Stewart experienced some handling issues on the No. 20 Chevy that prevented him from competing for the win. But after Jimmie Johnson cut a tire and hit the wall on lap 127 all Stewart needed to do was grab a 20th or better finish to clinch the championship.
"We would have done more to be more aggressive with it, be we did what we needed to do and kept our mind on the big prize tonight. We knew we didn't have a good enough car to win, so we just did what we had to do to win the championship."
He stayed out during the final pit stops of the race to gain track position gaining him a spot in the top ten. But his Chevy just wasn't competitive. Luckily, it didn't matter, the 15th place result was all he needed to be able to collect the Cup and climb the fence.
Stewart was the odds on favorite to win this year from the get-go. He started the Chase in first place and led the standings after nine of the 10 events.
"This is awesome," cheered crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "I couldn't be prouder of Tony. That's probably the biggest thing - is this kid. He has been through ups and downs, but being part of him maturing and we won this championship because of him, because of his attitude, because of his winning ways."