Never in the history of motorsports have two titans rendered the sport simply a two-man show the way Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have over the final three race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Starting here at Texas Motor Speedway, the eighth of 10 races in the Chase, it was almost like there were no other cars on the track. At TMS, Stewart won and Edwards finished second. At Phoenix, Edwards finished second and Stewart third. And then it came down to the finale in Homestead, Fla., in front of a disappointing crowd amid rain delays at the small track.
The focus was clearly on these two drivers. Old School Tony and the cerebral and physically fit Edwards. Both drove with their tongues hanging out, racing each lap as hard as they possibly could. Stewart looked like a man possessed, passing four-wide at a Homestead track where two-wide is pushing it. From time-to-time he let out a shout, sounding euphoric and delivering a message that he was leaving it all on the track. It was checkers or wreckers for him.
Edwards, though, led the most laps. He wasn’t to be outdone. And he calmly went about his pace with reserved discussion over the two-way radio with his crew chief, Bob Osborne.
Speaking of crew chiefs, Darian Grubb was informed by Stewart-Haas Racing that he'd no longer have a job once the season ends. Now that he has guided Stewart’s team to the Sprint Cup championship, will that change? Not likely.
Oddly, Grubb is both the newly crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup champion's crew chief and looking for a job. Awkward. But at least his asking price would appear to have risen. His call to save fuel and give up track position was gutsy. A timely caution benefited Stewart, and Grubb was fortunate. Instead of being champion, he could have wound up the turkey. But seven-time champion Richard Petty has always said he'd rather be lucky than good. Grubb has been both.
If anybody ever asks again, what is the ratio between car and driver? Is the driver more important, or is the car more important? Over the last several races we have seen two great drivers carry their cars. Sure, the cars were prepared well. But these two drivers made their cars great. This was a driver's showdown, not a car or team showdown. Stewart and Edwards proved the driver can play as much of a role as they want.
Sunday’s race reminded me of the first fight between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden. Both fought out of sheer will. Frazier won the 15-rounder by decision. Afterwards, both fighters were hospitalized for their injuries. Rumors circulated that Frazier had, in fact, died (not true -- Fraizer died two weeks ago at age 67 after a bout with liver cancer.
That kind of sacrifice, self-discipline and will power makes an athlete not merely great, but truly legendary.
The performance by Stewart and Edwards puts them forever into that legendary status.