Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart took the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship battle to a new level in 2011. The pair were separated by just three points entering the season finale - and closed the year with an even tighter race. They’re certainly not the first pair to engage in such a battle. Over the years, in all forms of motorsports, drivers have found their championship battles not only coming down to the last race, but sometimes even the last laps. Here’s a look at some of the most epic championship finishes in racing.
2004/1989, NASCAR championship races
In the first year of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch found himself battling Jimmie Johnson to the wire. Busch had a tire roll off his car in the season finale, but was in position on the track to immediately peel down pit road and fix the problem. A caution coming out saved his effort — and helped him win the championship by eight points over Johnson. That’s the same margin of victory that Rusty Wallace enjoyed when he won his 1989 title over Dale Earnhardt.
1985, CART title
Al Unser (right) found himself in an unusual battle for the Championship Auto Race Teams title – facing his son. With three races to go, Al Unser finished second in the Monterrey Grand Prix; Unser Jr. was third. A week later, Unser won at Phoenix International Raceway with his son finishing second. With everything on the line in the season finale in Miami, Unser Jr. finished ahead of his dad — by one spot. But Unser’s fourth-place finish was enough to clinch the title by one point.
2008, Formula One title
Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Felipe Massa were embroiled in a tight battle for the title. Hamilton took the championship by one point in daring fashion. Needing to finish fifth in the season finale, he overtook a driver on the final lap of the final race of the year to slip into fifth — and snare the title.
1984, Formula One title
McLaren teammates Niki Lauda (right) and Alain Prost were the class of the field. Prost, new to the team and intent on establishing his title-contending role, was a force to be dealt with. The two adopted differing strategies over the course of the season and remained in a dead heat until the end of the final race. Lauda finally snared the championship by half a point over Prost.
2006, IndyCar title
Sam Hornish Jr. (second from left) and Dan Wheldon (far right) were two of four IndyCar Series drivers (Helio Castroneves, left, and Scott Dixon were the other two) who had been in the running for the series’ title race. But it came down to Hornish and Wheldon. In the season finale, Hornish took the pole position and posted the fastest lap, but Wheldon led the most laps and won the race. That was enough to tie Hornish for the points lead – but not to win the title. The series title came down to wins, and Hornish won by virtue of his four race victories compared to two that season for Wheldon.
1996, IndyCar title
It just doesn’t get much closer than this. In 1996, what is now known as the IndyCar Series made its debut – with the running of three races. Buzz Calkins (right) won the series opener, but he would go on to tie Scott Sharp atop the standings when the season ended. The series named them co-championships and they share the title.
2011 Sprint Cup championship
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards engaged in a tight battle throughout the Chase for the Sprint Cup. They entered the season finale with each needing to win the race to snare the title. While Edwards led the most laps, it was Stewart who won the race. Edwards finished second, putting him in a mathematical tie with Stewart. But Stewart won the title in the tiebreaker, which was total wins for the season. In that category, Stewart topped Edwards 5-1.