By Sandra MacWatters (Featured Columnist) on March 20, 2011 444
"Woulda, coulda, shoulda" may have been the mantra for Tony Stewart's performance, until he really came up short at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He was second to Trevor Bayne on the final restart of the Daytona 500, but the draft of cars that streamed by relegated him to a 13th place finish.
The second race of the season at Phoenix showed Stewart leading four times for 59 laps when the caution flag flew at the wrong time. His team strategy was out the window, leaving him in seventh place.
Las Vegas then became the most frustrating for Stewart. He was dominant with 163 laps led during the race. The car was fast, allowing him to secure a four-second advantage, and then came the pit stop.
As he pulled out of the pits, the air hose was trailing along behind him, hooked on the car. As a result of the penalty for taking equipment out of the pit stall, he went from the lead to 24th place.
The recovery came for Stewart and he was back out front, but the two-tire vs. four-tire conundrum cost him the win as he watched Carl Edwards take the checkered flag in front of him.
After the Las Vegas race, Smoke said, "It kills me to throw a race away like that. Second place sucks."
The Stewart team felt confident prior to the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he really was never a contender for the win. Briefly, he found himself down a lap, but the "lucky dog" pass enabled him to finish in 19th position.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images Stewart stated, "We just never really got the handling right during the race."
Now he and his teammate, Ryan Newman, are tied in the point standings with Stewart third and Newman fourth.
Inconsistent finishes, pit miscues and bad calls during pit stops would normally have sent the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet up in emotional flames, but he seems to be mellowing as the years pass.
Stewart was known for his outbursts over a variety of topics, his sarcasm with the media and his moody behavior throughout his NASCAR career.
Now the Indiana native still shows his emotions, but in a much calmer manner. Perhaps his new demeanor will lead him to more consistency and wins as the season progresses.
Stewart is a racer and winning is all that matters, no matter what kind of car he is driving. When he isn't racing in NASCAR you will find him around his open-wheel cars, either as a driver, owner or promoter.
The Stewart-Haas owner/driver is a NASCAR Cup champion pre-Chase in 2002 and with the Chase in 2005. The driver will turn 40 this May, and he certainly hopes to get that third NASCAR Sprint Cup championship before he retires.
Stewart has 39 Cup wins, and eight of them came at the five upcoming tracks following Bristol. He also has 35 top-five finishes at these tracks.
Who will get a win before Tony Stewart this season? Kurt Busch Paul Menard Ryan Newman Dale Earnhardt Jr. Denny Hamlin Submit Vote vote to see results Who will get a win before Tony Stewart this season?Kurt Busch26.3%Paul Menard1.3%Ryan Newman26.3%Dale Earnhardt Jr.17.1%Denny Hamlin28.9%Total votes: 76
There is little doubt he will get a couple wins this year. His team, led by crew chief Darian Grubb, worked very hard during the offseason to get in position to contend for wins and the Chase in 2011.
This year, the team got off to a hot start earlier than usual. His best runs had been coming in the heat of summer, but maybe his performance so far is an indicator that he will be a driver to contend with all season.
His first win this year may not come as soon as he would like, with the really tough competition he faces from Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, along with the RCR and Hendrick drivers who are waiting to pounce on wins.
Heading to California, Jimmie Johnson will be favored to win the upcoming Auto Club 500. Stewart does have two wins at Martinsville and three at Richmond, which may be his best chance in the next five races.
Stewart may face the trials and tribulations like Jeff Gordon faced last year with strong finishes, but a failure to close the deal. Frustration from incidents like the one he described as "shooting himself in the foot" could take an emotional toll on him.
If the driver of the No. 14 can remain consistent and avoid costly errors with pit stops, he will certainly get a win during the first half of the race schedule leading to the Chase.
It would not be too much of a shocker to see Paul Menard or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. get a win before Stewart.
This is NASCAR racing, and the expected often becomes the unexpected. The best winning strategy of any given team could go up in smoke. Stewart is hoping it doesn't happen to him.