Posted: 26 Sep 2011 01:41 PM PDT
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – Tony Stewart can’t possibly win the Chase this year.
That’s what the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet wanted you—and his 11 competitors in the race for the Sprint Cup title—to believe.
That’s why Stewart said during a Sept. 15 Chase media day interview in Chicago that there were seven drivers who could win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup—and he wasn’t one of them.
Two Chase races and two victories later, Stewart is laughing up his sleeve. With Sunday’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stewart grabbed the championship lead from Kevin Harvick, who entered the Chase with a 12-point cushion over Stewart, thanks to four regular-season wins to Stewart’s none.
Though Stewart’s cars had been substandard for much of the season, he and crew chief Darian Grubb found something at Atlanta and Richmond, the last two races before the Chase. Stewart didn’t want his rivals to know that, either, discounting his ferocious run to third place at Atlanta as irrelevant, because Atlanta Motor Speedway, though an intermediate downforce track, doesn’t drive the way any of the five intermediates in the Chase do.
Stewart’s demurral about Atlanta didn’t fool Carl Edwards.
“I’d like to agree with him and say he’s not a threat and we don’t even have to worry about him, but I’m going to disagree with Tony and say that I think he is a threat,” Edwards said. “The first time that I actually started getting nervous about that team was at the end of the Atlanta race when he was just marching forward, and I thought, ‘Man, they’ve got something here.’
“If you remember back to our win at Vegas, he was screaming fast there, so I think they’re going to be tough. I think Tony is obviously a great racecar driver. He’s been through championship battles and won them, and I think he’s going to be tough unless they have some sort of slump like everybody can have and everybody has had, then they’re going to be tough. He’s not going to make mistakes.”
Edwards made those comments two days before Stewart won at Loudon.
Stewart himself views his recent success as a four-race turnaround, and after walking from victory lane to the media center Sunday, he acknowledged it. From a human perspective, the two Chase wins have given Stewart-Haas a much-needed boost.
“When you talk about momentum, that racecar doesn’t know anything about momentum,” Stewart said. “It knows what you put in it; it knows how we drive it. It doesn’t know stats. It doesn’t know anything other than what’s put in it.
“Momentum deals with people. It’s not just these first two races of the Chase—it was the two weeks leading before it, too. We haven’t finished outside the top seven now in the last four weeks. That’s huge for us. That’s huge for our guys.”
It also says a lot about what may lie ahead for Stewart, perhaps a third title to go with the championships he won in 2002 and 2005.
“We’ve had one of those seasons up to the Chase where we couldn’t do anything right,” Stewart said. “I mean, we couldn’t get it clicking. We couldn’t get through all the bad luck. It seems like every week something would happen, and we’d have to try to dig ourselves out of a hole the rest of the day.
“I’m hoping and praying that we’re through that bad-luck string now, and things are hopefully going to click the next eight weeks.”
If that’s the case, Stewart may well hold the trophy at Homestead, but one thing is certain—the possum act is a thing of the past, as far as his rivals are concerned.