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Season Finale Is a Movie Script Come to Life

Tony Stewart turns trite plot into the most compelling day NASCAR has seen in decades.

If you’ve read this column for any length of time, you’re aware that we aren’t big fans of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The idea of having a playoffs-style run for the title is appealing, but the way it has typically unfolded has been fairly dull and predictable. That is, until this year. By the sheer force of his personality -- and he has enough personality for two or three average men -- former champion Tony Stewart turned the 2011 Chase into the greatest Chase of all time. The way it all played out was just like a mass-market movie with all the drama, pathos and humor that implies.

Here’s the basic scenario. The one-time champ who has had some bleak years is down on his luck again, and many people think his best days are long gone. Somehow he sneaks into the Chase, and he has a chance -- a very outside chance -- of winning another championship, but things still look grim. In fact, the team is so low that his crew chief has already been informed that he better start looking for a job at the end of the season. But then the wily veteran drives and blusters his way through the Chase races and somehow finds himself in contention for the Sprint Cup championship with just one race to go.

When the last race is run, he gets off to a great start, but then things go wrong. A mechanical problem drops him from contention to the back of the field in a race he simply has to win. His crew frantically repairs the problem, and he goes out driving like a madman, passing everything in sight until -- can you believe it? -- another mechanical problem pushes him to the back of the pack again. A lesser man might just bag it right there. Instead, former champ Stewart comes out again and drives more aggressively than anybody can remember. Throwing caution to the on-shore breeze, he makes pass after pass, shooting through the field like a .30-06 round from a deer rifle.

The other driver in the piece -- Carl Edwards, the solid, classy type who usually ends up losing the girl to the bad boy -- makes it tough on Stewart by driving a good race himself, but by the end of the day it is obvious that Stewart is the irresistible force. With all the odds stacked against him -- and with a patched-together car and a crew chief who doesn’t know if he’ll have a job come Monday morning -- he wins the race and wins the championship. Incredible. Now that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and we might not ever see a racing day quite like that again.