This weekend's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway couldn't come at a better time for NASCAR veteran and two-time champion Tony Stewart. Since his rookie season in 1999, the summer stretch of events on the Sprint Cup calendar are historically his best.
Stewart has amassed 37 career wins in his Cup career and 34 of them have come in the month of June or later. Without a doubt, the summer season belongs to him. He has used these wins and consistent finishes to catapult himself to two Sprint Cup Series championships in 2002 and 2005. Stewart is also the only driver to win a championship under both the old points format and the new chase points system.
Coming off a surprising first-year campaign for newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009 in which the owner/driver leads the points standings for 13 consecutive weeks, the pressure and expectations to perform are abundant. The 2009 season was an unusual one for Stewart, who peaked very early and possibly too soon in the season and won the Sprint All-Star race in May.
After the 15th race of the season, he found himself atop the points standings and by the conclusion of race 26, when the points are evened and the chase starts, Stewart had won three races and led the series points standings by 237 over Jeff Gordon.
By season's end, Stewart won only one more race (Kansas) and accrued only five top-five and three top-ten finishes in the final ten races, which left himself and his avid fans wondering what might have been.
The 2010 season has been the exact opposite of last year for Stewart. Before the month of June had rolled around, he had only one top-five and four top-ten finishes to his credit. In the three races since then, Stewart has driven to three consecutive top-ten finishes and has found himself back in the top-12 in points after finishing fifth in Michigan.
Now the series is heading to New Hampshire, where Stewart has found success in the past. Since his rookie season in 1999, he has led 1,028 laps and and has won there two times.
When not winning, he has accrued 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes with an average finish of 12th in 22 races there. Looking ahead at the three races after that (Daytona, Chicago, and Indianapolis), Stewart has won seven times in his career and has solid top-10 driver averages at each.
With that said, NASCAR fans beware. Stewart is primed to have an excellent summer stretch and has rattled off consecutive top-10 finishes to this point with momentum on his side. Don't write off Stewart as the one to dethrone Jimmie Johnson at season's end and become the 2010 champion.