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NASCAR won the lottery with the final race of its dreams Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a championship fight that came down to a dead heat in the standings when Tony Stewart won the race and Carl Edwards finished second.
As incredible as it was, NASCAR also came perilously close to a controversial ending that would have caused many fans to doubt the fairness of the outcome.
NASCAR was only one point from that happening. Stewart and Edwards tied in the point standings, a first in NASCAR history. Stewart won the title by virtue of more victories than Edwards.
Stewart won five of the 10 playoff races. However, had he finished just one spot worse in any of the five Chase races he didn't win, Edwards would have won the championship.
Smoke would have fallen one point short even though he won five Chase races to none for Edwards.
It worked out perfectly this time and the right man won the title, but NASCAR should consider what could have happened. One or two more points for winning might be a good idea.
On a six-hour flight home from Miami, I passed the time by poring over the Cup stat book for 2012. Hey, it was either that or listening to the guy next to me snore.
I uncovered some interesting tidbits.
One statistic that tells me a lot is the plus or minus number for a driver, showing how many times he improved his starting position in the 36 races.
Topping the list is Kevin Harvick at plus-8 for drivers who started every event. David Gilliland was plus-7, but you need to factor in that he started near the back in most races. The same is true for Dave Blaney, who was a plus-7 in 35 starts.
Of the drivers who finished in the top 25 in the standings, Cup champ Stewart was a plus-6. And this one will surprise you: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a plus-5.
Two first-time winners in 2011 were on the other end. Regan Smith was a minus-6, and Paul Menard was a minus-5.
The most disappointed team of 2012 has to be Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya dropped four spots from 2010 and Jamie McMurray dropped 13 positions, going winless after three victories in 2010.
But the team that should feel good about its performance is Richard Petty Motorsports. After coming so close to folding at the end of the 2010 season, RPM cut back to two cars and placed both drivers in the top 20 in the standings -- AJ Allmendinger in 15th and Marcos Ambrose in 19th, including a victory for Ambrose at Watkins Glen.
NASCAR put on quite a show for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series teams Monday night during the awards banquet at the Miami Beach Loews Hotel.
A crowd of more than 600 attended. What stood out for me as I watched the drivers take the stage was the feeling that the future is in good hands with all the young racers who had stellar seasons. Nationwide champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one.Austin Dillon, the youngest Truck series champ ever at age 21, is a polished young man who gave an impressive speech. He will race the No. 3 in Nationwide next year, and I kept thinking, "If anyone is going to race Dale Earnhardt's number in Cup again someday, this is the right guy for the job."