Homestead: Tony Stewart was crowned NASCAR`s champion on a tiebreak after his magnificent drive won the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in a showdown with rival Carl Edwards.
Stewart`s victory, for his co-owned Stewart-Haas Racing team, meant he and Edwards finished level on points for the season but he lifted the Sprint Cup thanks to winning more races (5-0) in the season-ending Chase playoffs.
It was the first time NASCAR`s championship was decided on a tiebreak since the introduction of the points system in 1975 and with the top two drivers going head-to-head knowing only a victory would bring them glory, it was the perfect finale for America`s most popular motor racing competition.
There was no need for complex calculations, no uninvolved drivers affecting the outcome. The season ended with the best two drivers chasing each other around the 1.5 mile oval in South Florida.
"If this doesn`t go down as one of the greatest championship races in history I don`t know what will," said Stewart, as he celebrated with his team trackside.
The 40-year-old Stewart`s victory was his third career championship following his triumphs in 2002 and 2005 and was the first by an owner-driver since Alan Kulwicki`s win in 1992.
Edwards went into the race with a three point advantage over Stewart and led for the most laps but he was unable to catch his rival after the pair separated for the last 40.
Stewart drove superbly in re-starts and his gamble of changing just two tyres on his final stop paid dividends -- but his aggressive driving, making 118 passes, secured him the win.
The Columbus, Indiana born driver suffered damage to his grill early in the race that needed repair work and then found himself well behind again after problems during a pit stop.
While few would argue with Stewart`s status as champion, after winning half of the season-ending 10 races in The Chase, Edwards can consider himself unlucky after a year of outstanding consistency.
Edwards had 26 top ten finishes from 36 races and 19 top-five placings but he was put in the position of needing to do something he hadn`t managed all year, win a race, and failed.
"They beat us fair and square, that is all I had at the end, that is as hard as I can drive," said the 32-year-old Edwards.
The victory ends Jimmie Johnson`s unprecedented run of five straight wins and his 32nd placed finish means he ends the season outside the top five for the first time since turning professional in 2002.