When Tony Stewart runs down his list of people to thank this Thanksgiving, Jeff Burton should be at the top of his list. Without Burton's help, Carl Edwards – not Stewart – would be the 2011 Sprint Cup champion.
On the last lap of the penultimate race in the Chase at Phoenix, Stewart ran fourth and Burton third. As Stewart approached Burton's bumper, Burton moved over without putting up a fight, allowing Stewart to take third and gain one more championship point.
That proved to be the difference.
When the final tally came in, Stewart and Edwards were tied atop the standings with 2,403 points, with Stewart taking the title based on the tiebreaker – most wins. Had he finished fourth at Phoenix, Stewart would have finished with 2,402 points, meaning Edwards would be the champion.
Why didn't Burton put up a fight when Stewart closed on his bumper?
As Yahoo! Sports reported prior to last Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, both drive for Chevrolet. As fellow Chevy driver and Burton teammate Kevin Harvick explained, that loyalty runs deep – especially when the driver Stewart was chasing was in a Ford.
"I think everybody in a Chevrolet would rather see a Chevrolet win, just knowing how much it means to the manufacturer," Harvick said last Friday. "So you go about cutting him some slack on restarts, little things like that and on pit road, whatever the case may be."
When asked point blank about the scenario at Phoenix, Harvick left no doubt about what went down.
"Burton let [Stewart] go," he said.