Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 36: The Grande Finale - Edwards versus Stewart

In almost showman like precision, the field for the grand finale the race that will determine the 2011 championship is between two racers, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. It would be Edwards' first title, but should Stewart win, he'd join the most elite fraternity of drivers with three or more titles -- Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson,  Jeff Gordon, Lee Petty, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Darrell Waltrip. On the other hand, would Edwards win, it would make Jack Roush a three time champ as owner, a rare feet in its own right. This is a race for the fans, a battle between two of NASCAR's boldest personalities both of whom have huge followings.

All the signs going into the race favor Edwards. He has won this race in the past two seasons, sits on the pole, and dominated second round practice, while Stewart's wins at Homestead were before the track was redesigned and was racing the older generation car. Stewart only managed 28th fastest in 2nd round practice which might suggest to some he could be sandbagging, but if that were the case, his qualifying efforts are rather lackluster, with a starting spot of 15th. Few drivers are able to communicate and make adjustments as effectively as Tony Stewart with Crew Chief, Darien Grubb's assistance. While the numbers are all in Edward's favor at the start of the race, nothing's chiseled in stone.

Some drivers are hoping that the Ford 400 is not their last horrah. Presently, the #6 team does not have sponsorship to continue, as such David Ragan could be without a ride. David Reutimann was fired from Michael Waltrip racing. While Brian Vickers, who ccertainly has not been making friends given his on track behavior recently, is with the Red Bull Team that is closing up shop unless a buyer an be found, but even if one were,there's no guarantee Vickers would be invited back. The NASCAR field continues to contract. The Roush operation could well be three cars as will Richard Childress racing. However, the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series might have provided a look at who could be joining those teams in the near future. Austin Dillion, Richard Childress's grandson, won the truck championship. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Nationwide title for Roush.

For the first time since 2005, Jimmy Johnson will not be champion. The last champ before him...Tony Stewart. Johnson's five consecutive titles is an unequalled feat in NASCAR blowing away Cale Yarborough's three straight titles. With Johnson's long shadow, it is not obvious that Tony Stewart not only already has hall-of-fame credentials, but a championship tomorrow puts him in the true elite. Edwards, most might think it's about time. He's been one of the sport's most dynamic drivers in the past decade and is one of five who finished second to the Johnson legacy.

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