Tony Stewart, the driver, won five of 10 Chase races in 2011 to secure the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. It was also the first title win for Tony Stewart, the car owner, as a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with Gene Haas.
But the “car owner” narrative means a bit more this year, as Stewart is at the top of the NASCAR heap this Monday morning as he and Haas are the car owners for newly crowned 2014 champ Kevin Harvick.
For Stewart, it puts a positive ending on what’s been such a challenging season both on and off-track, one that also ended a 15-year run of consecutive seasons with a win in Sprint Cup.
“I’m just glad tonight turned out. You know, the rest of it’s history,” he reflected during the post-race press conference. “We’ve talked about it over and over. Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it to be honest at this point. I’m more excited about what this organization and what this group of people has done together.
“You know, there’s a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them. I’m going to enjoy this moment, and I’m going to enjoy it with this group and this young man. We’re going to go celebrate and enjoy this because this group of people here have deserved it, and this is a great family and this is a great group of people to lean on.”
Stewart took the opportunity to praise Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers, who made the ultimate winning call on pit road.
“If you want to know how hard it is to win a championship here, it boiled down to the calls, the last pit stop and the strategies that were played,” Stewart said. “And one took zero tires, one took two, we took four, and one had a problem in the pits. I think up to that point it was pretty evident the flow of the race up to that point, but I think that was the moment in the race where nobody really knew exactly how those strategies were going to play out.
“But I think all three of the crew chiefs made calls that they thought were appropriate for how their cars were running and track position, and I’m proud of Rodney. It takes guts to sit up there and see a guy stay out and then have to sit there and make that call.”
Stewart reflected on the change in titles, 2011 to 2014, and how NASCAR has evolved over that three-year period.
“The France family hasn’t made bad decisions and got the series where it is by making bad decisions,” he said. “They know what the right things are, and this is a professional sport that has had more technological changes and advances come into the game than any other pro sports. But with that, you have to have a sanctioning body that understands how to take that technology and apply it.
“Our championship in ’11, and this one tonight, there are similarities, but they’re very different in a lot of ways, too. The game has changed between 2011 and 2014. Every stage of this Chase has proven to be so difficult.”
Stewart closed with a line noting, once again, how challenging it is to win a title – and why this one will be so satisfying for him and the entire SHR organization.
“You’ve got to be a little bit crazy to want to do this,” he said. “The odds say you’re going to be unsuccessful more than you’re going to be successful, but it’s those – it’s these single moments like this that make all of that hard work worthwhile, and that’s why we do it.”