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Tony Stewart, NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Sp...

Suddenly, it was over. The most exciting race of the year, perhaps in NASCAR history, roared through Homestead, giving fans everything they could possibly want in a championship match. One vs. two (in this case the 99 vs the 14); just three points separating the drivers; nothing could stop Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart from battling like champions.

From the opening moments’ four-wide pass by Stewart, to the chase to the finish line, this was not a race designed for a middle-of-the-afternoon cat nap. Miss a lap and you just might have missed one of the stunning highlights of the race. While Edwards started on the pole, Stewart was constantly fighting his way to the front of the pack, only to have Lady Luck dish out adversity after adversity, sending him back to the end of the line… and again he would charge to the front, weaving around 40 cars as if they were standing still.

Who would have thought last February in Daytona that the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship would be decided by a tie-breaker? Both drivers crossed the line with the same number of points—an elaborately complex system impossible to comprehend—the deciding factor the driver who had won the most races during the season. It was Tony Stewart’s Smoking Hot charge through the last two months’ racing, capturing five victories, that propelled him to the Champions Circle and the coveted Sprint Cup.

Carl Edwards responded to his own disappointment in finishing second with the graciousness and class we’ve come to expect from “Cousin Carl,” setting the bar a notch higher for all competitors. Contrast Carl’s attitude with Kurt Busch‘s viral rant—You look for the link on YouTube—against perhaps the most respected—and nicest—NASCAR analyst for ESPN, Dr. Jerry Punch. Seriously, those Busch boys need to grow up.

Now the off-season doldrums have attacked with a vengeance—first raising its head when the final out was recorded in the World Series, snickering when it became clear that the NBA players and owners had no burning desire to salvage the season, then actually taking up residence once Sunday’s excitement became Monday’s memory.

With Atlanta losing its professional hockey team again this year, one-and-done taking its toll on college basketball, college football suddenly less appealing under the Penn State cloud of disillusion… what will replace NASCAR in the weeks that drag endlessly toward February 26, 2012?

Apple’s iTunes store provides a video plethora of past NASCAR races—more than enough to satisfy the most ardent fans. Relive your favorite races—or entire seasons—on NASCAR Rewind, or glory in the best of the best with NASCAR Classic Races Volumes 1 and 2. Prefer to watch on DVD? A quick check of Amazon reveals dozens to choose among, including NASCAR: Greatest Dominators & Greatest Finishes. Perfect antidote for those doldrums.

Failing that, check out a few books that will give you a NASCAR boost:

Kathy Reich’s latest novel Flash and Bones pivots around murder at the Charlotte Speedway during Race Week; Michael Waltrip‘s In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything gives keen insight into one man’s journey through and beyond one of NASCAR’s darkest days. And for the girls, Harlequin even has a series of contemporary romance books under the heading, Stories Set in the World of NASCAR. Guaranteed to warm the coldest winter nights.

Perhaps it’s time to pick another hockey team to follow? With Sid Crosby back on the ice after ten months of post-concussion recovery, the Penguins’ should have the Stanley Cup firmly in the crosshairs; or perhaps it’s time join the Caps’ fans waiting to see Ovechkin break out of his recent slump in an Ovie-spectacular manner? At least, January 2’s Winter Classic in Philadelphia provides something to anticipate.

Oh, and February 26, 2012, already is one day closer!

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