HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Tony Stewart insisted he wasn't a title contender when NASCAR's championship race began.
When it became clear he actually was a viable threat, he kicked it into another gear and vowed to go for broke in his pursuit of Carl Edwards.
Did he ever.
Stewart used a powerful and relentless drive — some might suggest the best in NASCAR history — on Sunday in the season finale to seize his third NASCAR championship. He overcame a hole in the grill of his Chevrolet, a rain delay, used debatable fuel strategy and made 116 passes on the track to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Edwards led the most laps — 119 of the 267 — but finished a helpless second. The two ended up tied in the final Sprint Cup points standings, but Stewart's five victories — all in the chase — to Edwards' one gave him the championship.
Stewart became the first owner/driver to win the championship since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992, and the driver to end Jimmie Johnson's record five-year title run.
"Are you kidding me?" Stewart asked in Victory Lane. "We said all week we'd just go out and win the race and didn't have to worry about what he did. If this doesn't go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don't know what will."
If this doesn't go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don't know what is."
Edwards was disappointed but held his head high after the race.
"This night is about Tony Stewart. Those guys rose to the occasion and they beat us fair and square," Edwards said. "That is all I had. We came here and sat on the pole, led the most laps and Tony still managed. That's it. That's all I got at the end. That's as hard as I can drive.
"I told my wife, 'If I can't win this thing, I'm going to be the best loser NASCAR has ever had.' So, I'm going to try really hard to keep my head up and know that we'll just go next year and we'll be just as hard to beat."