BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
The Daytona 500 supposedly is NASCAR's Super Bowl, but you wouldn't know that after the Ford 400 Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway as the sport crowned a new champion.
On February 20, 2011, Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 as he led six of the 208 laps to become the youngest driver to win the "Great American Race" at 20-years-old and one day.
Little did the Knoxville, Tenn., native, who was born on February 19, 1991, know that the NASCAR season couldn't have started or ended better than it did, thus creating the "Ultimate Bookmarks."
Tony Stewart became the ninth driver in NASCAR history to win three championships. He did it by ending the five year reign of Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart defeated Carl Edwards despite the fact that both drivers finished tied with 2,403 points. The title was decided by a tiebreaker as Stewart won a chase all-time record five races while Edwards won one race this season.
On Sunday, Edwards led the most laps---119 of the 267 but not the last one as he finished second to Stewart in a climactic memorable finish.
As the rain poured after the race, Stewart left Miami with a $5.7 million check and continued to build his Hall of Fame credentials.
Meanwhile, Edwards had nothing to be disappointed about because he competed with class and will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to contend for next years championship.
Although Johnson's incredible run officially ended Sunday, he's the only driver to win five consecutive championships and he finished sixth in the points standings.
With the equipment and crew that his Owner Rick Hendricks provides him, I wouldn't bet against him in 2012.
But Johnson's legacy is cemented.
To win a hand full of championships, let alone in a row at the age of 36, is incredible in any sport.
If he doesn't accomplish another thing, he'll take his 55 victories and five championships into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC.
Yet, for some reason, I believe that Johnson has a lot more great racing ahead of him. He's two championships away to match the record of seven set by Richard "The King" Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Although the season ended in South Florida, NASCAR couldn't have scripted a better finale.
When the season starts off with an unknown and ends with a driver with multiple championships, this sport has done a great job mixing in the new with the old. It will only get better as legends enhance their legacies and new stars are created.
The Ford 400 turned out to be the equivalent to a Game 7 of a team sport.
You had two competitors in a winner take all setting. NASCAR couldn't have visualized this in it's Super Bowl in February.
But on Sunday February 20, 2011, exactly nine months after it started, this was the sports' real Super Bowl.
It's amazing to think that in about 90 days, it will start all over in Northern Florida off I-95 at the Daytona International Speedway.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.
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