Stewart's 15-year NASCAR winning streak ends

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Tony Stewart threw his arms around Kevin Harvick and gave him the kind of hug where it seemed as if neither driver wanted to let go.

Stewart's worst season - on and off the track - ended with a dose of triumph, hugs and tears at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick capped his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing with a Sprint Cup championship that finally gave one of his best friends in the sport and team owner a reason to smile.

''It doesn't make up for a bad year,'' Stewart said. ''I mean, I've had a terrible year. But this makes the end of November great.''

Stewart was already in street clothes for the victory bash because his race ended long before Harvick took the checkered flag.

Stewart's 15-year streak of winning at least one NASCAR race ended once the grille got knocked in on his No. 14 Chevrolet and the engine overheated. Stewart retired the car and finished last in the 43-car field.

His run began with a victory as a rookie on Sept. 11, 1999, at Richmond International Raceway, and is tied for fourth-best in NASCAR history. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 straight years.

Harvick ended a successful run at Richard Childress Racing to try to win a championship with Stewart. It paid off with a beer bath in Victory Lane and a championship trophy passed around the crew - with a party planned that could stretch into the morning.

''Tony was pretty adamant that we could race for wins and championships,'' Harvick said. ''That was really what it was all about. I needed to be excited about going to work and this just gave me an opportunity to race with one of my good friends.''

Stewart had the worst season of his career and his struggles continued at Homestead. He fell a lap down early in the race and was never a threat before parking his car.

He still had a vested interest in the race as the car owner. Harvick's title was Stewart's second as a car owner. His 2011 championship as a driver/owner was his first.

''He's probably been more of a help to me this year than I've been to him,'' Stewart said. ''But the great thing is, we understand each other. ''

Stewart's performance was below average even before he was involved in an Aug. 9 accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race in upstate New York.

Stewart said earlier this week in an interview with The Associated Press that he has struggled with NASCAR's current rules package. The three-time NASCAR champion also doesn't have a feel for Goodyear's tires, and has not been able to execute decent restarts.

He also has been bothered by lingering pain in his surgically repaired right leg, which he shattered in a sprint car accident in 2013. It cost him the final 15 races of last season.

Stewart ended this year with a career-worst three top-fives and seven top-10s.

Stewart did win a sprint car race in July, extending his streak of 36 consecutive years with a racing victory in at least one series. He has not raced a sprint car since Ward's death.

''I'm tired of talking about it, to be honest,'' Stewart said. ''I'm more excited about what this organization and what this group of people has done together. There's a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life. But tonight is not one of them.''

For a night, Stewart could briefly push aside the pain and get set to make room on the SHR trophy shelf.

''That's about as emotional as you can you can get, to have one of your greatest friends go out in one of your races cars and win a championship in the toughest series in the country,'' Stewart said.

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