Skip to content

Is Watkins Glen make-or-break for Tony Stewart’s Chase hopes?

Aug 9, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

(Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

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

Latest Posts
  1. PWC officially confirms GT/GTS split races

    Oct 24, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Photo: Pirelli World Challenge Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

    GT/GTS races confirmed for split in 2015 by the Pirelli World Challenge series.

  2. Jeff Gordon fastest in first Martinsville Sprint Cup practice

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Gordon leads group of four Chasers in Top 5 speeds; all 8 remaining Chasers within Top 15.

  3. Lotus to evaluate new nose design in Austin

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Italy Getty Images

    Formula 1’s new technical regulations prompted Lotus to use a twin-tusk nose for 2014, but this could be scrapped for next season.

  4. Caterham given dispensation to miss Austin and Brazil

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT

    Caterham Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone allows the team to miss the next two races as it searches for a buyer.

  5. Lotus close to confirming Romain Grosjean for 2015

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice Getty Images

    Deputy team boss Federico Gastaldi says the team is close to finalizing its drive line-up, with Grosjean in pole position for the seat.

  6. Matt Kenseth looking for “career highlight” win this weekend at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    GEICO 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    A win for Kenseth this Sunday would also put him into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead next month.

  7. Emerson Fittipaldi to be in attendance at Austin for fan event

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    2013 Laureus World Sports Awards Nominations Getty Images

    Two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi will make an appearance at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next week as part of a COTA fan experience.

  8. Ricciardo: United States GP my favorite race of the season

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia - Previews Getty Images

    Ricciardo full of praise for Austin and the Circuit of the Americas ahead of next weekend’s race.

  9. The man behind the sculptures: William Behrends’ presence endures for Borg-Warner Trophy, and Giants legends

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT

    Photos courtesy Steve Shunck Photos courtesy Steve Shunck

    Statues outside AT&T Park and the faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy share a common thread, in sculptor William Behrends.

  10. Schumacher’s doctor notes progress, but calls for patience

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    File photo of Schumacher looking on during the qualifying session for the Italian F1 Grand Prix race at the Monza racetrack in Monza Reuters

    Dr. Jean-Francois Payen says that he has noticed some progress in Schumacher’s recovery.

  11. Esteban Ocon enjoys ‘exceptional’ F1 test for Lotus

    Oct 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    © Lotus F1 Team © Lotus F1 Team

    Sauber also complete a test in Spain with Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany.

  12. Caterham the latest team to fall foul of the Leafield ‘curse’

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Spanish Formula One Grand Prix: Qualifying Getty Images

    Just like Arrows and Super Aguri before it, Caterham is on its last legs. However, it is going out in far less dignified fashion.

  13. Administrator takes over running of Caterham F1 Team

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:26 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-BELGIUM-SPA-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Finnbarr O’Connell is now in charge at Leafield as the team prepares for a race against time to make the United States GP in Austin next weekend.

  14. Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT

    (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.

  15. Kentucky native Jack Roush to be inducted into state’s Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT

    (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.

  16. NASCAR America: Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

    (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.

  17. Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Lincoln, Ala. Police Department) (Photo courtesy Lincoln, Ala. Police Department)

    For the second time in 18 months, police in the area of Talladega Superspeedway are investigating the disappearance of a race fan who had intended to go to the Sprint Cup race at the 2.66-mile racetrack.

  18. Enrique Contreras III, nephew of Carlos Contreras, to make first NASCAR truck race start at Martinsville

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT

    (Photo credit: Enrique Contreras III) (Photo credit: Enrique Contreras III)

    Enrique Contreras III, nephew of veteran Mexican racer Carlos Contreras, will make his NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Race at Martinsville Speedway.

  19. PWC: GTSport to continue two-car Cayman GTS effort

    Oct 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Photo: GTSport Racing Photo: GTSport Racing

    GTSport Racing returns with Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Busch (1930)
  2. R. Preece (1770)
  3. R. Newman (1366)
  4. M. Kenseth (1309)
  5. B. Keselowski (1303)
  1. W. Pitkat (1292)
  2. L. Cassill (1258)
  3. D. Coby (1229)
  4. R. Rovelo (1109)
  5. K. Kahne (1107)