PHOTO: Tony Stewart celebrates his NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship after performing one of the greatest championship drives ever. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

— by T.J. Ingerson
VMM Editor

I sat watching the season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on the TV when a chat message popped up from a friend. Through our course of conversation, he said it is “unbelievable how Tony Stewart wills his way to the front.”

He was right. And it’s why Tony Stewart’s drive will go down in history as the greatest championship drive ever.

Tony stated he felt he was just taking up one of the 12 positions and passed over himself when asked who he felt could contend for the championship before the Chase even began. Tony hadn’t won a race in the first 26 “regular season” races, only finished in the top five three times, and recorded 11 top ten finishes. When looking at those statistics, it makes Stewart’s championship run even more impressive.

The No. 14 from Stewart-Haas Racing was just an average team. They were just good enough to be there, but not good enough to be a threat. They were like the eighth seeded team in the NCAA Tourney. They have a shot because they are there, but they really aren’t included in the discussion.

It became one of the greatest upsets in history.

Four wins in nine races later that included five top five and seven top ten finishes for a team that was written off was impressive. To trail by three points headed into the finale showed how tough of a fight Stewart really had from Carl Edwards.

Stewart appeared to will himself to the championship after the win at Martinsville. He made up in his mind that he was going to win the championship. The greatest talent in NASCAR raised the bar for himself over the next four races, and did things with the race car that was remarkable.

When we look back on the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the vivid image of the final race at Homestead should be clear in our minds. It was one of the greatest championship races in one of the greatest championship drives, ever. And for Stewart to do what he did was even more impressive. Stewart’s race at Homestead may go down as the best drive ever.

“Man, I feel like I passed half the State of Florida,” Stewart said. “118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race. I don’t care what series you’re in or where you’re at. To do it under the circumstances and the pressure that we had today, I’m very, very proud of that, and man, I’ve been racing 31 years, I can’t even remember some of the races I’ve won. But I would have to say that under the circumstances, I’ve got to believe that this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life.”

It certainly was one for the ages.

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Canaan Fair Speedway announced the return of the $5,000-to-win ACT legal Late Model Sportsman event for 2012 on May 12. The event was a major success in 2011 that saw 37 late models attempt to qualify. Rain delayed the Subway Fresh Fit 150 until June 5, but a very good crowd returned to watch Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. win after Brad Leighton cut a right-front tire on lap 123 after dominating the first 122 laps.

It’s a win for Canaan Fair Speedway and a win for late model racing in New England.

* * *

As we arrive at the Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to send a few messages of thanks.

I am (still) thankful for the opportunity Justin St. Louis gave me to be a correspondent for Vermont Motorsports Magazine and then having the trust in me to step into the role of Editor when a great opportunity arose for him.

I am thankful for every car that keeps racing alive, from ground pounding Modifieds (we like both dirt and asphalt variety), to small but fast Mini Sprints, to competitive Late Models, to the entertaining support divisions such as Sportsman classes, Strictly Stock classes, and entry level four cylinder, and the intimidating Sprint Cars and Midgets and all those cars in between and unique.

I am thankful for every driver, crew member, and official who gave an honest answer when I stuck that recorder in their face, even if I was the last person they wanted to see.

I am thankful for Twitter and Facebook, spinning the phone every which way to get that race update to send from the infield, and tracks and series that allow me to do it.

I am thankful for a girlfriend that not only allows me to do it, and encourages me to travel to race tracks all over the northeast.

I am thankful for everything thing I’m thankful for that is slipping my mind right now.

But, most of all, I’m thankful for the readers and followers of Vermont Motorsports Magazine and continuing to read what we strive to provide to you. You are the reason I took this opportunity and will continue to bring the best coverage of Vermont and Northeast racing possible.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!