|Stewart's in the thick of the title race|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 21 September 2011 06:16|
The two-time NASCAR champion went into the first round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship certain that only seven drivers could contend for the title this year. The way Stewart figured it, he was among the five drivers who had no shot at winning the Chase.
Asked what would happen if he actually did win the title, Stewart confidently said, ``I'll declare I'm a total bumbling idiot.''
It seems now as if Smoke might have been sandbagging just a little bit.
Stewart picked up his first win of the season Monday at Chicagoland. The victory snapped a 32-race losing streak, extended his record to 13 consecutive years with at least one win, and, most important, rocketed him seven spots in the standings to second.
He goes to New Hampshire this weekend for Round 2 of the Chase trailing leader Kevin Harvick by seven points.
He still wanted to hedge his bets in a subdued postrace news conference, but was willing to admit his Stewart-Haas Racing team has picked it up a bit over the last three weeks. It would be an understatement to say he was terrible at Bristol, where he finished 28th, down three laps from the leaders.
But since then, he was third at Atlanta, seventh at Richmond and then won at Chicago.
``I've had a miserable year, but the last three weeks we've really started coming into it,'' Stewart said.
That's bad news for the competition since SHR dominated New Hampshire in July. He and teammate Ryan Newman combined to lead 167 of the 301 laps, and Newman led Stewart to a 1-2 sweep for SHR.
Statistics show he'll likely have another strong run Sunday: In 25 career starts at Loudon, Stewart has two wins, 15 top-10s and an average finish of 12.0.
But, Stewart will have to make sure he's not his own worst enemy. He's been grumpy of late, and while the temperamental driver's mood swings don't usually raise eyebrows, his fixation on enforcing on-track etiquette could derail his title run.
It backfired on him earlier this season at Sonoma, where Brian Vickers intentionally wrecked Stewart as payback for Stewart's enforcement earlier in the race. At the time, Stewart insisted he was not going to back off.
``I'm going to stay the course on it,'' Stewart said. ``I'm just to the point where I'm fed up with some of the way some of these guys are racing each other. If we miss the Chase because of it, so be it. There's 42 guys out there, and they know how I race, they know what I expect. And I don't race them that way, I don't block guys and I'm not going to block guys. But if they block me, they will suffer the consequences.''
His rage flared up again Monday, when as the in-race reporter for ESPN, he referred to some ``idiots'' on the track and vowed to put an end to their lack of manners. Moments later, he bulldozed to the top of the track and stormed into the lead with an aggressive but impressive pass.
After, he held firm on his beliefs.
``I don't think you're going to see that etiquette anymore. I think it's just dying off,'' Stewart said. ``I think guys don't care whether they make anybody mad on the race track or not. They're just going to do what they want to do and they're only solely worried about themselves.
``So we're going to start adopting that attitude. I'm tired of being a guy that gives a guy a break and then a guy doesn't do it in return or the guy puts you in a bad situation. I'm just going to adapt to their style.''
Getting caught up in petty on-track battles could potentially be his downfall. Stewart's run at Chicago put him in great shape to challenge for the championship - if he doesn't get in his own way.