Needing only to run a clean race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he hovered just outside the top 10 and away from any potential danger. He ended up 15th, winning the title by 35 points over Greg Biffle, who won the race for the second straight year by besting teammate Mark Martin in a door-to-door finish.
Stewart became just the 14th driver in NASCAR history with more than one championship and joined four-time winner Jeff Gordon as the only active drivers with multiple titles.
For Stewart, it was the perfect finale to what's been a perfect season both on and off the track.
He had a tortured run to the title in 2002, punching a photographer the lowest point of a rollercoaster season pocked by bad behavior and blowups. So he'll treasure this title, a gift to the team that stuck with him through thick and thin.
After an emotional embrace with crew chief Greg Zipadelli — interrupted by chants of "Climb the fence!" from his fans — he dedicated the win to his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
"I put the team through a lot of hell ever since I've been with them but they never gave up on me," he said. "Zippy didn't want to win it the way we did in 2002. It was nice to do it and do it right."
The championship was the third for Gibbs, now coach of the Washington Redskins, and first for his son, J.D., who took over the leadership role when his father went to the NFL.
Joe Gibbs told Stewart over the phone after winning the title to go out and celebrate that it was on him. "You're darn right you're picking up the tab!" Stewart replied.
Indeed, Gibbs was instrumental in getting Stewart to finally settle down.
One day during the offseason, he ordered the driver into the race shop for a heart-to-heart talk with his team. He wanted the crew to open their hearts and make Stewart see just how difficult he made their jobs.
When the meeting was over, Stewart was a changed man.
Stewart also has a good luck charm with him. Kyle Petty's wife Pattie gave Stewart a lucky charm from her late son Adam with the inscription John 3:16 on Sunday morning. Stewart had it in his pocket all day. Very Nice gesture by the Pettys
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