- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - Tony Stewart’s third NASCAR championship was much different his first two.

It was historic.

Stewart became the first driver/owner to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki accomplished the feat in 1992. Kulwicki overcame a huge deficit over the final six races. Stewart claimed his third title by becoming the first driver to clinch the championship by winning the season finale.

“It’s an honor to be in the same category with Alan Kulwicki,” Stewart said. “But Alan did it all on his own. I’ve got a great co-owner with Gene Haas, and (general manager) Joe Custer helped put all this together with (Hendrick Motorsports owner) Rick Hendrick.”

Stewart won Cup championships in 2002 and 2005 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He stepped out on his own in 2009, teaming with Haas for financial support and getting engines from Hendrick, and delivered the ultimate prize in just his third season.

Stewart became the ninth driver in NASCAR history to win three of more championships, a list that includes Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough.

“I’ve got the best team in the business and it’s just awesome,” Stewart said. “I’m so grateful to be able to do this for Gene. He’s invested so much in the sport, and for him to have the faith in me to do this, it just takes a lot to do what he’s done and I’m glad I could get it done for him.”


CAREER LOW FOR 5-TIME: Jimmie Johnson’s problems in the season finale left him with his worst career finish in the Cup standings.

Johnson, who won the previous five championships, had engine problems early in Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and later got spun by David Gilliland.

He ended the race six laps down, finished 32nd and dropped to sixth in the final points. He had never finished lower than fifth since his rookie season in 2002. He also ended the year without a pole for the first time in his 10 full seasons.

He was eliminated from title contention at Phoenix last week, but came to Homestead hoping to end the year on a high note. Instead, he endured all sorts of problems.

Internal engine parts seemed to be the biggest culprit.

“I started getting some warning signs on the way into the pits that it was an internal situation and those internal parts were trying to find a way out,” Johnson said. “So we are out of the points _ (was) trying to finish in the top five _ but if we can get on the track and get going, other guys have some trouble, maybe we can get something going there. Just disappointed.

“Sad way to end the season, but it is racing. We will come back next year.”

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