October 1, 2011
By Donalde z Smith
Incredible; At New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Sunday, NASCAR veteran and former-champion Tony Stewart ignited his run for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship with back to back wins!
While Stewart’s potential has been self-evident for a long time, he was not able to produce a win in the first twenty-six races of the 2011 season. With only three top-fives and eleven top-ten finishes before the start of the Chase. After the points were reset, Stewart was ninth in the Sprint Cup point standings.
Even Driver/Team Owner Stewart was not optimistic about his Chase odds. In fact, before the Chase began, he remarked that it might have been a waste for him to even have a Chase spot.
CIA Stock Photos
Stewart Celebrates Victory at New Hampshire
Mayhap, that negative attitude relieved the No. 14 Office Depot / Mobil 1 Chevrolet team from the expected Chase pressure. It might have been just what Stewart/Haas Racing needed to record their first victory of the season and snap that thirty-two race winless streak.
However, when I hear people ask, “Where did Tony come from?” I remind them that one should not forget that Tony Stewart has already proven that he is a Champion. Anthony Wayne "Tony" Stewart -- born May 20, 1971 -- has quite an impressive racing resume. He has won titles in Indy Cars, Stock Cars, Midgets, Sprint and USAC Silver Crown cars.
Stewart grew up racing go karts and won a World Karting Association Championship in 1987. He was the USAC Rookie of the Year in 1991, and the USAC National Midget Series Champion in 1994. In 1995, Stewart won the USAC National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown championships and became the first driver ever to win the “Triple Crown” in a single season.
Stewart was given the nickname “Smoke” during his U.S. Auto Club dirt track days where his driving style found his right rear tire spinning and smoking coming off corners.
Impressively, in 1996 Stewart was the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. He won the IndyCar Series Championship in 1997.
Tony went on to be named Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in 1999. He earned his first Sprint Cup Championship in 2002. He produced a second Sprint Cup Championship in 2005.
Nevertheless, it was still a pleasant surprise when the team also won the second race of the Chase. No doubt about it, Smoke is hot right now and the Chase momentum is with the No. 14 team.
However, as a true Champion, Stewart is not one to sit back and bask in the limelight. “As much as we want to sit here and beat our chest and be proud of what we've done -- and we are proud of what we've done these first two weeks -- we've got eight hard weeks to go here,” Stewart analyzed.
Will Smoke stoke the inferno with another win? Only one other driver -- Greg Biffle in 2008 -- has ever opened the Chase with two consecutive wins and he finished third in the championship.
With the Chase heading to Delaware’s Dover International Speedway on Sunday, Stewart has his work cut out for him. He has raced there twenty-five times in the Sprint Cup Series with an average finish of 12.52. Tony won at Dover twice in 2000 and was last on the Dover podium in 2009 with a second place finish. He could be due for another win there.
What a fairy tale story that would be. If Stewart could win this Sunday’s race, the AAA 400 at Dover, it would be the first time he has ever won three consecutive Sprint Cup races. A third win would also make him only the second driver in the Chase to win three consecutive races. Jimmie Johnson actually won four consecutive races in the 2007 Chase. Johnson went on to win the Championship that year.
With eight races left in the Chase, only three drivers, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards are within fourteen points of Stewart. Of the three, Edwards has the best record on the track with an average finish of 7.6 in fourteen starts. Harvick only has two top-five finishes at Dover. Keselowski has only participated in three Dover races.
However, remarkably, during the Chase era (2004-Present), the points leader after the second Chase race has never gone on to win the Championship. It would be wonderful to see Stewart break that record!
To quote Stewart after his win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, “We’ve got a shot at this thing!”
If you would like to learn more about Donalde z Smith, please check out her web site at NASCAR Race Mom.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.