Tony Stewart was not going to be denied. There is no doubt about it. From the time the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon, to the moment that either Bob Packrass or Dustin Long shutdown the Homestead Media Center, this final race of the year had more twist and turns than an episode of All My Children. Stewart made an unbelievable 118 passes to race twice from the back of the field, to the checkered flag and his third Sprint Cup Championship.
"As much as I would love to beat my chest and say that I've been just doing something supernatural, I mean, I've had cars that have given me that confidence to do that," said Stewart.
But it was pretty amazing. There was Kurt Busch's exploding transmission, that knifed a hole into Stewart's grill. The bad pit stops for the #14, the gamble for fuel mileage, that put Smoke in the catbird seat when the caution came out for rain and then the post-race revelation that the championship crew chief is out of a job now. And I just hit the high points.
"Nobody has ever quit on this team," said Stewart. "I think the season has been character-building and when something like that's happened it's easy to feel like you're backing yourself in a corner but the way our day was and to battle back from the back twice in those first hundred laps, I thought gave us that confidence that it wasn't the end of the world and that we could recover from it."
Smoke is used to rising from the ashes, although to be quite honest, he's never been that far down. Only the media and some fans counted Stewart out. For him the fire has always been burning.
"I said at Chicago that we didn't belong in this Chase and taking a space that somebody else that was doing a better job could have done, there were two things that could have happened with our group of guys," said Stewart. "They could have hung our head and said, our guy doesn't believe in us or they do have done, which is exactly what they did, and that's never give up, and they dug their heels in. They fought like the Bad News Bears. We were the team that nobody really thought had a shot at the beginning, and you know, the longer this went, we battled adversity at Dover and Texas and we just kept fighting, this whole group up here. I mean, Darian (Grubb) has done an unbelievable job in this Chase."
Which brings us to the most interesting, although not all that secret twist to the night. The final admission by Stewart's crew chief, the aforementioned Darian Grubb, that he had already been fired by Stewart Haas racing effective at the end of the season. Says a lot about him and the team they they were able to perform, and not let this distraction weigh them down.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen," said Grubb. "But I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here. We just kept fighting and doing everything we had to do every week. It did not change anything, what the outcome was going to be. We fought as if we were going to fight to win this championship, and we did it, and now we'll just see in this coming week how things change."
And a lot can change in a week, heck this team proved a lot can change in a few hours. That's because it is driven by an owner driver, who wants one thing....to win.
"You know, Tony Stewart is a superstar, we knew that," said Stewart Haas Co-Owner, Gene Haas. "And I had, basically as we said, back at our shop, I had the jackstands and Tony Stewart was the driver of the car and he could do that. Unfortunately you need a wheel man. You could have the best equipment in the world but without a good wheel man, you really don't have a whole lot."
"It's just, what do you have to do to get back on top," sais Stewart. "You know, I don't think anybody ever has that feeling. The day that you just say, I can't do it any more, you might as well just announce your retirement and find some young kid that will do it."