- — 2011 was a comeback year for NASCAR, but in some ways, it was a step in the wrong direction. Sure, the sport got a new champion, higher ratings and the stands on Sunday didn’t look so empty, but a set of brothers looked more like children on a playground throwing a tantrum than actual race car drivers.
Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing — The team started off a bit shaky, but came through just in time for both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman to make the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup title. Newman stayed consistent for the most part in the Chase, but it was his team owner Stewart who took NASCAR by storm and shocked fans and probably the other drivers by winning five out of 10 Chase races, including two back-to-back wins.
Stewart started out the Chase by saying he didn’t think his team deserved to be in it, considering their performance so far in the year. But then they won the first two races of the Chase.
Stewart went into Miami, the final race of the season, with a three-point deficit behind Carl Edwards and kept his “nothing to lose” attitude. If he won the race in Miami, he knew he would win the championship, and he did just that.
Stewart’s five wins this season is the most by a driver in the Chase since the championship race was implemented in 2004. He is the only driver to have won a championship under the Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup names. He gives Jimmie Johnson’s five championships in a row a nice bookend (Stewart was the last driver besides Johnson to win the championship, back in 2005).
Tony Stewart proved this year that leaving Joe Gibbs Racing three years ago was not a mistake, but the beginning of the next chapter of the career of one of the most talented drivers in racing today.
First-time winners — In 2011, six drivers won Sprint Cup races for the first time. Among them were Trevor Bayne, who won the Daytona 500 a day after his 20th birthday and in his first 500 start. Among the other drivers who won for the first time were David Ragan, who won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Paul Menard, who won the Brickyard 400, and Regan Smith, who won at Darlington.