Aug 9, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
In a way, Tony Stewart‘s hope to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup is like a wristwatch: the minutes and races are ticking away.
Stewart, who qualified a decent 13th Saturday for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, may have his best – and potentially last good – shot at making the Chase this weekend.
Sure, Stewart can still earn at the four other tracks that follow WGI en route to the Chase: Michigan and Bristol, where he has one career win at each, and then Atlanta and Richmond, where he has three wins each.
But no other place between now and the start of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway offers Stewart such strong odds as this weekend’s event.
Stewart has been an outstanding road course racer in his Sprint Cup career, winning seven times since 1999: five at this weekend’s venue, and two others at Sonoma
But Stewart is also well aware that his last win at WGI came back in 2009. Doing well on Sunday is incentive enough, but he also has the added pressure of making it almost mandatory that he must earn a win to make the Chase.
Stewart is known for his coolness under pressure, but things are a bit different this year. He’s at risk of missing the Chase for the third time in its 10-year existence, and for the second year in a row (the third time was 2006, one season after earning his second of three eventual Cup championships).
Missing last year’s Chase was out of Stewart’s control: he missed the final 15 races – including the entire 10-race playoff – due to suffering a broken leg in a sprint car crash early last August.
But now that he’s back, Stewart is trying to stay cool to make the Chase, but he’s starting to show an uncharacteristic bit of insecurity.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Stewart said in a team media release for Sunday’s race. “You would love to have two or three wins under your belt and not have to be worrying about it, but it’s part of it. But if it were easy, then it wouldn’t mean anything.
“Where we are still doesn’t change anything as far as our approach goes. We’ve got to do the same things, do it the same way. You can’t over-drive the car. You can’t try harder than what you’re already trying. You just have to believe in yourself, believe in your team and not let up.”
At this point with five races left, the best way for Stewart to make the Chase is with a win. But he also has a chance – albeit small – to still make it on points. He’s currently 19th in the Sprint Cup standings.
“To me, it doesn’t matter how you get in, it’s just getting in,” Stewart said. “The important thing is a) getting there and then b) making the cut, and then each cut after that (the three cut-offs in the Chase after the third, sixth and ninth races). We all knew at the start of the season what it was going to take to get in, it’s just a matter of getting there.”
Even though much of the talk this weekend has been about the likely chances of a win by Marcos Ambrose or Stewart’s teammate, Kevin Harvick, Stewart may be at the best place for him and his Chase hopes.
“(This is) a race that we always look forward to,” Stewart said. “We’ve had a lot of success there and it’s just fun. It’s like taking Sonoma and just multiplying the speed times three. It’s just a lot faster track. It still has the same elevation changes, but you’re just running a lot quicker. Both Sonoma and Watkins Glen are two places on the schedule that we really enjoy coming to.
“When you’ve won five races, it gives you that confidence that you know how to win, and know what you have to do to get to victory lane. I know what feel I need when we get here. It’s just a matter of going out and … putting yourself in that position.”
For Stewart, that position is rather simple and cut-and-dried: First. Everything else is not enough.
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Aug 31, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The rest of the stories of note, to cap off the IndyCar season at Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT
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Aug 30, 2015, 10:34 PM EDT
A look at how the championship hopes for the three drivers ended in the GoPro GP of Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:49 PM EDT
Dixon pulls off a shocker in Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
Juan Pablo Montoya blamed the double-points awarded in the season finale for missing out on the IndyCar championship.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:47 PM EDT
Rahal endures disastrous finale at Sonoma, falls from second to fourth after 18th place finish.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
Dixon wins race, title in Sonoma in dramatic fashion.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
Will Power and Juan Montoya must fight from the back of the field following an accident.
Aug 30, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
Robin Miller remembers Justin Wilson in this touching tribute.
Aug 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Webber and the no. 17 Porsche crew claimed their first win at the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on Sunday.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Chevrolet wins its fourth straight INDYCAR Manufacturer’s Championship.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
With heavy hearts, IndyCar moves ahead and will crown its champion this afternoon in Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Catch up on the Red Bull Global Rallycross season at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Maldonado keen to make up for his DNF in the Belgian Grand Prix at Monza.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
What to watch for ahead of the 16th and final round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma from Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Pole-sitter Will Power claimed the fastest time in the 30-minute session.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard claim their first WEC victory since joining forces at the beginning of the 2014 season.
Aug 30, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Grosjean sets his sights on repeating his third-place finish in Belgium last weekend.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
“If somebody wants to go into Formula 1 and they think that they can do it from one to the next year, I think he shouldn’t try to do it.”
Aug 30, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
While there’s no shortage of wineries in Napa Valley, few have racing tie-ins, and fewer still get a racing tie-in at Sonoma Raceway – here’s the story of the Trefethen Family Vineyards.
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- Scott Dixon captures Sonoma race win and 2015 IndyCar championship (VIDEO) 9
- Robin Miller pays tribute to Justin Wilson (VIDEO) 1
- WATCH LIVE: IndyCar’s championship decided in Sonoma at 1 p.m. PT, 4 ET on NBCSN 1
- What to watch for: IndyCar at Sonoma (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0
- Porsche’s no. 17 car surges to maiden WEC victory in 6 Hours of Nürburgring 2
- Audi boss Ullrich laughs off continual F1 rumors 2