Tony Stewart finished 17th at Richmond Saturday night. After spinning out, making his way close to the top ten several times only to have bad pitstops to hurt his progress such would think it would get Smoke and his championship hopes down?
Perhaps it is the fact that he was running faster lap times than the leader Denny Hamlin for much of the race and constantly moving forward, or it is perhaps that his season has gone great with 3 wins, a series leading 13 top fives, a series tied 18 top tens, and up until the chase started has led points. Most drivers wouldn't like having their lead taken away from them but Stewart isn't one to complain.
“The system is a good system,” said Stewart, alluding to the point system where after leading it for 13 straight weeks he’s now second with the recalibrated Chase standings. “It’s not devastating to leave here and be second in the points after leading for so long. I mean, we all knew what the system was going in. It’s a fair system. It’s an exciting system.
“We’re not leaving here with our heads down because we’re now second in the points. We’re right there in striking distance, and if we can put together 10 great weeks, then we will be the champion. If we don’t, then we didn’t deserve it.”
Stewart may have to have 10 top tens in the chase. May not be such a big undertaking. From Dover to Watkins Glen Stewart accumulated 3 wins, 8 top fives, and 10 top tens. If he can duplicate that success in the chase then he will not only win his 3rd championship, but also become the 1st driver/owner to win in their first season.
It will be a tough task with drivers like Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin and even Carl Edwards trying to get the title. But Stewart is up for the challenge.
Stewart accomplishments of taking a team who had it rough staying in the top 20 to a championship caliber team should be taken notice of and he is very proud of his success.
“I am extremely proud,” said Stewart when asked about how far his team has come in such a short period of time. “I am proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. I am proud of Gene Haas (owner, Haas Automation) and Joe Custer (senior vice president, SHR) that gave us the opportunity to be partners with them and help build this organization, and also Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Engines and Chassis. We just have a great package. We have a great group of people. We have a great support system with Rick and his guys. Everybody has done an awesome job of working over the winter. Darian Grubb (crew chief for Stewart), Tony Gibson (crew chief for Newman), Ryan Newman, Office Depot, Old Spice, U.S. Army, Burger King and all these people that believed in us and wanted to come and be a part of this program helped us get where we are today.”