‘Smoke’ keeps fire going
advance to the next threerace round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. He faces elimination this weekend in Dover, Del., where the field will be whittled from 16 to 12.
Stewart is more than a bubble boy, ranked 15th and 11 points out of 12th place.
He either needs to win at Dover or finish in the top 5 and hope that some of the guys in front of him have a bad day.
And that’s asking a lot, considering his average finish in the last six races is 26.3.
Stewart found some great mojo in the regular season, holding off Denny Hamlin for a dramatic victory at Sonoma, ending an 84-race victory drought. But it’s been downhill since then, especially with a 16th-place finishat Chicagoland followed by a 23rd-place run at New Hampshire on Sunday.
Stewart did have a nice takeaway from New Hampshire, where track officials honored him with a 7,000-pound granite stone highlighting his five career NASCAR and IndyCar victories at the track.
No doubt he was one of the sentimental picks among his peers, although you could probably count out Ryan Newman among those wishing Tony good luck (see Richmond race).
“He’s always been feisty,” Chase qualifier Jimmie Johnson said a few weeks back. “There’s been more speed in his car, which has been good to see. That’s led to some more feistiness, I guess. But that win in Sonoma, that was a cool moment. I think everybody here can talk to the feelings they had seeing him win. I know I was way happy for him.
“You know, he has that in there. He can do it. We watched him win half the races in one Chase and become the champion. After that I learned not to count him out.”
One last shot remains to stay in this thing.
Were Stewart to rally to win the championship, it would be his fourth Cup title, a nice cherry to top a Hall of Fame career.
“I want to be there at the end,” he said at the start of the Chase. “I’m not worried about leading laps and all that. The first segment, you got almost half of the field in this. You’re not going to win the championship in this first segment, but you can sure take yourself out of an opportunity to win it.
“It’s, ‘Don’t make mistakes. Don’t make mistakes. Be solid.’ ”
It has not worked out that way. Onward to Dover, to see if Stewart is still smokin’ by the end of Sunday’s race.
Dover (Del.) International Speedway Sunday, 2 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Network Tony Stewart, who will retire after the season, needs a win or some help this weekend to make the Chase’s final 12.