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Stewart, other top-10 drivers honored at banquet

NASCAR honored its 2011 Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart, on Friday night in its annual awards banquet at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Stewart is the first owner/driver to win the Cup title since Alan Kulwicki was champion in 1992. He’s also the first driver not named Jimmie Johnson to win the title in in six years.

Stewart was also the most recent Sprint Cup champion before Johnson’s five-year reign at the top.

“You put yourself at the beginning of Jimmie Johnson and at the end of Jimmie Johnson,” fellow Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Newman, told Stewart.

Stewart claimed his third Sprint Cup Series title in the closest championship battle in NASCAR history, tying second-place Carl Edwards in points and being declared champion by having more wins than Edwards.

“It means a lot to finish second to a guy who’s a champion,” Edwards said.

The other drivers who finished out the year in the top-10 were also recognized.

“I get to compete with the best drivers in the world, and I’m grateful for that,” Stewart said.

Kevin Harvick finished third, Matt Kenseth was fourth, Brad Keselowski fifth and Johnson sixth.

“Our season didn’t turn out as hoped, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort,” Johnson said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a return appearance at the banquet after a two-year absence. His seventh-place finish in 2011 was his highest since 2006.

“It’s good to be back at the big dinner again,” Earnhardt said.

Jeff Gordon finished the year eight in points, Denny Hamlin was ninth and Newman 10th.

Chevrolet claimed honors as the 2011 manufacturers’ champion.

One non-racing award was handed out. Eighty-three-year old Robert Weaver of Talladega, Ala., was the first recipient of the new Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award for his work with the Alabama Institute for Deaf in blind. Weaver was awarded a new Ford Explorer and $100,000 to be donated to the charity of his choice.

According to Weaver, he’s the highest-paid employee at the Institute, getting his pay direct deposited to his heart.

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Photo of Tony Stewart (left) and Carl Edwards (right) courtesy of NASCAR Media



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