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CUP: Chase Bio — Tony Stewart

TONY STEWART, Stewart-Haas RacingPoints position: 4th2010 season: 1 win, 7 top-fives, 14 top-10sDefining moment: Winner, Atlanta Motor Speedway

Tony Stewart has been there, done that.

PHOTOS: 2010 Chase Contenders - Tony Stewart

A solid points racer, he knows how to win championships, having scored Sprint Cup titles while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2002 and 2005. His next goal is to win one for his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stewart charged out of the gate last year in SHR’s first season with a surprisingly productive effort – four wins and a Chase qualifying spot. This year, he has wrestled with a bit of the sophomore jinx.

By mid-spring, Stewart was spinning his wheels and going nowhere. Back-to-back finishes of 23rd at Richmond and Darlington dropped him to a worrisome 18th in Sprint Cup points as he had failed to post a top-15 finish for six consecutive races.

But, beginning at Dover, Stewart put his slide in reverse. Over the next 12 races, he finished out of the top 10 only twice, and he climbed through the standings methodically, reaching fourth place after a run of sixth at Michigan.

Just as Stewart has done in years past, he seems to be reaching a peak when it counts. In nine of the 10 races prior to the start of the Chase, he has an average finish of 9.3, second only to Carl Edwards.

Stewart put an exclamation point on the rise last week by finally breaking through for his first win of the season with a great performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I guess if you’re winning every week, you feel like you’re peaking to a certain degree,” Stewart said. “The thing I guess I’ve been really excited about, especially the last two months, we have been kind of silent every weekend and we are gaining on it. And it’s not been in one-week increments where we’ve had a big change and all of the sudden everybody goes, 'Wow, they are starting to figure it out.'

“It’s been a lot of little steps in the last 10 to 12 races, I would say, that nobody’s really noticed it, but we have noticed it internally. It’s a much better feeling right now this time of year than it was a year ago.”

Stewart has been in five of the six Chases, missing 2006 despite winning five times.

PHOTOS: 2010 Chase Contenders - Tony Stewart

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.