by Jonathan Fjeld
TRE Lead Reporter
@JFjeldNASCAR on Twitter

   Like I promised, I’m back here at the end of the season with a conclusion to the series of stories:

"The Ballad of the Rushville Rocket", that I have written earlier in the year. So here we go with it:

When I wrote the last story in this series, Stewart’s optimism level was not that high. It was also 2 nights before Smoke scored a dismal 28th place finish after starting 42nd and only4 days after Stewart stated he did not deserve to be in the Chase. A rise in performance was soon to come for the 2-time Brickyard 400 winner.

As I stated in the last story of this series, Stewart could come out of a slump like he did in 2003. Sure enough, he did. His next 4 finishes (in order) would be 3rd, 7th, 1st, and 1st. After that stretch of races, Smoke would take the points lead. For 2 races, Tony faded a bit, dropping to 7th. He wouldn’t fade for long.

Tony Stewart finished 8th in Charlotte and then 7th at Talladega. He would jump to 4th after those 2 races. Stewart was striking at the right time. At Martinsville, he would overcome adversity to win and stating that “He [Carl Edwards] better be worried. I’m not making these next 3 weeks easy for him.” Sure enough he wouldn’t.

The next 3 weeks, Stewart would finish 1st, 3rd, and 1st. The way Stewart ran in the final 5 races of 2011, showed remarkable consistency, shown by the 48 team the past 5 years. Stewart would end up in the same place the 48 team ended up at the end of those 5 years; the head table at the Cup Awards Banquet.

Overall, Tony Stewart had an unbelievable year in 2011. From “just another Chase driver” to becoming a true contender, Stewart about saw it all. Great job to the 14 team of Tony Stewart on their championship. Best of luck to them in 2012. Next year, I will be covering the 24 team like I did with the 14 team this year. Let's hope the result is the same for them!