Tony Stewart was honored as the 2005 series champion
as the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series capped the 2005 season at their
annual awards banquet at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Friday
Stewart’s winnings for his second series championship
include a check for $6,173,633, bringing his season total to a
series-record $13,578,168 – besting the previous season high set by Jeff
Gordon in 2001.
Stewart’s accolades for the 2005 season included five
wins, highlighted by first-time victories at Daytona Int’l Speedway and
Indy – Stewart’s hometown track.
“It was a great year, obviously,’ said Stewart. “To able to win the
Brickyard, winning a race that had been a lifelong dream of mine, was
great and to finally win Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) a championship
the right way was something that was huge for us.
It was a more mature and serious Tony Stewart that took the stage on
Friday as opposed to his first title run in 2002, which was marred by
several on and off-track incidences, earning Stewart an unflattering
reputation among his peers and fans alike.
“I’m a happier person, “ said Stewart. “I’ve learned how to deal with a
lot of things and, this year, I just wanted myself and my team to have
“We didn’t start racing because we thought we’d be collecting a big check
at the end of the season. We did it for the thrill of winning races and,
at the time I started racing, wanting my trophy to be bigger than the next
Defending champion Kurt Busch - who missed the final two races of the
season after being suspended from Roush Racing following a run-in with
police near Phoenix Int’l Raceway last month – surprised many by taking
part in the past week’s championship festivities.
Busch, who finished tenth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup despite setting
out the last two races, received a warm round of applause as he took the
stage, thanking his crew and former car owner Jack Roush.
“Being away from the race track this past month has provided me with time
to reflect on my past and think about my future,” said Busch. “I know I’m
very fortunate to have the chance to do what I do. NASCAR fans are the
greatest, most supportive and most loyal fans in the world, and I will do
my best to give them all I have going forward.”
Busch also thanked Roger Penske, who hired Busch to replace the retiring
Rusty Wallace in the no. 2 Dodge in 2006, as well as acknowledging Wallace
for his outstanding contributions to the sport.
“No driver personifies NASCAR more than Rusty Wallace, and it is truly an
honor to have Roger Penske to select me to take over the no. 2 Dodge,”
Busch said. “Rusty, you left big shoes to fill. Congratulations on a great
career and thank you for what you’ve done for our sport.”
Wallace, the 1989 series champion, finished eighth in the final points
standings and received a standing ovation as he took the stage for the
final time in his career.
“I used to make fun of Jeff Gordon for getting teary-eyed - called him a
wimp and all that. I learned it from Earnhardt,” said Wallace, paying
tribute to his friend and seven-time champion the late Dale Earnhardt.
“It’s been a great ride, I’ll tell you what,” Wallace said. “I ended my
career the way I believed I could. Making the Chase was really cool.
Making it to New York was the proper way to end it.”
One of the night’s lighter moments came as Jeff Gordon was to be honored as
the 11th-place finisher in the final points standings.
But instead of the four-time series champion taking the podium, it was
comedian Will Ferrell, standing in for Gordon, who was in Paris
participating in the International Race of Champions Nations Cup.
Ferrell, currently filming a NASCAR-themed comedy movie, played it up for
the crowd in the role of Gordon.
“We did it. I told the guys at the start of the season to screw first
(place) and go for 11th,” joked Ferrell. “We set our sights high, but not
too high. You know, when you’re 11th, you’re like no. 1 of the rest of
everyone else. Do I get a check?”
Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, was also on hand to accept the 2005
Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the Most
Popular Driver Award for the third time.
Stewart also had one more award to accept – his victory in the Brickyard
400 was voted by NASCAR fans as the Most Dramatic Moment of 2005.
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