Winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is no small feat, let alone three. Being a three-time champion is an accomplishment only a handful of drivers have experienced, and Tony Stewart became the most recent Sprint Cup driver to have won three or more series titles when he hoisted the championship trophy in 2011, a triumph preceded by his first series championship in 2002 and then his second three years later in 2005.
Stewart is four years removed from his last driving championship, but he’s only one year removed from being crowned a two-time championship-winning car owner, a title he earned courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Kevin Harvick winning the 2014 Sprint Cup championship. Having survived the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Harvick goes into this weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to do it all again. It’s an opportunity for Stewart and Harvick to win back-to-back series titles, something that hasn’t been done since car owner Rick Hendrick won consecutive championships with driver Jimmie Johnson from 2006 to 2010.
While Stewart the car owner will be keeping a close eye on his organization’s opportunity to repeat as champions, Stewart the driver will be looking to finish the 2015 season on a strong note behind the wheel of his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS. And Stewart will be doing it at a track where the path to victory lane is familiar.
Like Stewart, Homestead has been a staple on the Sprint Cup circuit since 1999, and the cagey veteran is one of only two active drivers – Jeff Gordon being the other – who participated in the track’s inaugural event, a race for which Stewart arrived fresh off just his second career series victory the week prior at Phoenix International Raceway. As it would turn out, Stewart’s performance in South Florida that November weekend 16 years ago was anything but novice.
After qualifying seventh, Stewart went on to lead the race four times for 46 laps, including the final 11 circuits around the 1.5-mile oval, cruising to victory by a margin of more than five seconds.
That win in 1999 was the first of three Stewart has won at Homestead, including the season finale in 2011 – a victory that catapulted him to the season championship. Complementing the three wins are four top-five finishes, seven top-10s and 450 laps led in 15 starts.
When the checkered flag waves on Sunday, Stewart will have completed the penultimate season of his 17-year Sprint Cup career. But before he embarks on a season-long celebration of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career in 2016, Stewart would like nothing more than to celebrate another car owner championship at Homestead.