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.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
Jul 27, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Good news, Ricciardo made the podium. Bad news, his trophy didn’t survive it.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
Jakes kept his visor down after all on a pit stop in Iowa.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
A quick look back at Chaves’ short track debut.
Jul 27, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Karam needs a clean, consistent weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Rahal and Force compete against each other in a series of fun challenges at Sonoma.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
If another Dixon Mid-Ohio win happens, it will save his championship chances.
After blowing his chance to cut the gap to Hamilton, Rosberg must now avoid the mistakes of last summer
Jul 27, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Luke Smith considers the fall-out of a dramatic Hungarian Grand Prix that saw both Mercedes drivers miss an opportunity to seize control of the drivers’ championship.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Manor makes it through a difficult weekend by getting both of its cars to the finish in Hungary.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Vettel storms to his 41st career victory in Hungary as both Mercedes drivers hit trouble.
Jul 26, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Larry Morgan (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won in Sunday’s NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
Jul 26, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Sandell finally gets on the board in Round 6 of the Red Bull GRC season.
Jul 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The F1 grid comes together ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix to pay its respects to Jules Bianchi.
Jul 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The Red Bull Global Rallycross doubleheader in Detroit concludes with today’s Round 6.
Jul 26, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Ferrari caps off an emotional weekend with victory at the Hungaroring as Mercedes came unstuck.
Jul 26, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Verstappen claims his first top five finish in F1 in Hungary, capping off an impressive first half-season in the sport.
Jul 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
A penalty for Massa and a puncture for Bottas leaves both Williams drivers outside of the points in Hungary.
Jul 26, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
At one stage, Rosberg had been poised to take the lead of the championship into the summer break, only to lose yet more ground on Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Jul 26, 2015, 12:59 PM EDT
A poor start, off-track excursion, collision with Ricciardo and drive-through penalty can’t stop Hamilton from finishing sixth and extending his championship lead.
Jul 26, 2015, 12:02 PM EDT
The stewards were kept very busy in Hungary on Sunday.
- For Dixon, it’s likely Mid-Ohio or bust in terms of 2015 IndyCar title hopes 0
- Race Recap: Vettel draws level with Senna on all-time win list with victory in Hungary 1
- NHRA Mile-High Nationals winners: Torrence, Beckman, Morgan, Krawiec 2
- F1 grid unites to pay tribute to Jules Bianchi (VIDEO) 1
- F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian GP post-race (VIDEO) 1
- Vettel dedicates Hungarian GP win to Jules Bianchi 2
- Vettel storms to victory in Hungary as Hamilton and Rosberg hit trouble 9