Tony Stewart was "The Man" down the Chase stretch.
He won five of the last 10 races in the 2011 season to grab the championship by the horns, wresting it away from Carl Edwards by the narrowest of margins.
Sure, that was an impressive performance. But Stewart was far from the best driver over the course of the season.
Think consistency and season-long excellence should be rewarded more?
Here are five drivers who deserved it more. I picked one driver from each of five teams: RCR, Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway and Hendrick Motorsports.
Simply put, Brad Keselowski was Tony Stewart for much of the year.
After winning at Kansas in June to put his name in the conversation, Keselowski went on an absolute tear in the heat of summer. Special K reeled off two wins and finished no worse than third in the month of August (five races).
Keselowski kept up the momentum throughout the Chase, eventually finishing fifth. And with three pre-Chase wins, the most improved driver of 2011 deserved the title more than Stewart. Sure, Stewart was incredible in the Chase, but Keselowski was the better driver for the majority of the year.
Like Keselowski, Kevin Harvick was better than Tony Stewart throughout the year.
He one-upped Brad K in the win column, notching four victories before the Chase, and finished higher in the final standings as well (third). Harvick's title hopes were undone by some bad luck in the Chase, but I suspect that even Smoke himself would admit that Harvick had the better year overall.
Of course, knowing that probably won't make "Happy" Harvick feel much better about missing out on the championship for yet another year.
This one is an easy case to make.
Cousin Carl led the points for most of the year, including right down to the final race. In fact, he was tied for the lead at the end of it all, but of course Edwards lost the tiebreaker to Stewart's five wins.
Still, in a sport that has historically been about consistency, this ought to have been Edwards' year. The man scored 26 top-10's, seven more than Stewart and five more than his closest competitor.
Edwards can blame his teammate Matt Kenseth for this one, however, as Kenseth's one-win 2003 championship season was the reason for the creation of the Chase in the first place.
Wow, that's a scary photo. Kind of creepy, too.
But Kyle Busch had an awesome year, at least up until he self-destructed in the Chase (as always seems to happen).
Four wins in the regular season, taking the points lead heading into the Chase, and dedication to the point of practicing his racing skills off the track (whoops!) make him a deserving candidate for the title.
Jimmie Johnson is the obvious (and boring) choice from Hendrick Motorsports, but I'm going with the sport's most popular driver, nine years running.
If nothing else, Junior deserves it for his fans (or his fans deserve it for their devotion...or something). And for his rotten luck, losing at least a couple of races that he really should have won—remember Martinsville and Charlotte. And it would force all the Junior haters and naysayers to shut up, at least for a while.
Oh, and Junior did tie Tony Stewart with one pole on the season apiece. Just don't ask about how his other stats stack up with the champ.