It came down to the last race of the NASCAR season. Thirty-six races in the season, and the final two championship contenders took the final green separated by only three points. They finished it tied in points, with a champion determined by who won the most races in the year. That's 2,403 points over the year, mind you. Two people, tied.
They spent most of the Chase (the last 10 races of the season) racing each other somewhere in the pack. Certainly in the last two races, they were side-by-side at the end, racing for every little inch and point.
Tony Stewart (aka, "Smoke") was the experienced one, with two NASCAR titles and an IndyCar championship to his name. He's the old-school racer's racer--which is not to say he's lost one iota of his touch or skill.
Carl Edwards was still searching for his first title, after years of close calls. He's one of the new breed of competitors: attractive, personable, healthy, and athletic--widely considered the fittest man in NASCAR.
It's not that Stewart is none of those things (well, he's never been singled out for his fitness level), and it's not that Edwards and Stewart are miles apart in age, style, or approach to racing. But it was hard not to see this as the veteran and the new guy fighting it out.
At the start of the race, the commentators marveled at the surge and determination exhibited by Tony Stewart over the last couple months and weeks. One of them said, "He's going to carry that car on his back if he has to, if that's what it takes to win." Stewart had to win the race to win the championship no matter what Edwards did.
And that's just what he did. Stewart first, Edwards second, in the race and in the season-long championship.
There should be a word for that will to win, the indefinable something that Stewart and racers have. It's similar to charisma in that you can't totally define it, but people either have it or they don't. Win-isma, maybe. Smoke definitely has it. And he's about $5.6m richer tonight because of it.
Kudos to Carl Edwards for being a great driver, a great competitor and a classy guy.