MCREYNOLDS: Stewart Almost A Full Race Behind

Everyone knew that the race at Dover International Speedway, unless something truly had changed, was going to be a huge obstacle for Tony Stewart. Honestly, for him to come out of there with a 20th-place finish last Sunday, that’s really his best Dover finish in quite a while.

Now, though, the defending series champion finds himself well behind points leader Brad Keselowski.

I know we try to always base things that are going on to last year when he was just an also-ran going into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, then got into the Chase and obviously set the woods on fire, winning five races and the championship.

But I’ve said all along that 2011 will always be looked at as just an anomaly. I just don’t see that being duplicated again.

When I look back at how Tony and his team performed a good part of the summer, especially the last four or five races leading into the Chase, I’m really not surprised where they’re at right now. In those races, he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team had finishes of fourth, 22nd, 2th, 32nd and 19th.

He had two top-10 Chase-race finishes prior to Dover.

Now he and his team find themselves fifth in points, 32 points out. That’s going to be a pretty big mountain to climb.

Still, we’ve almost got to sit tight on points position and points behind the leader until we get through this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Once we get through Talladega, all the rest of the races are conventional races. Dover tended to be a bit of a game-changer, especially for Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle who are now 12th and 11th in the standings, respectively, but this coming week could be a game-changer – both positive and negative - for a lot of people.

If we do have the Big One at Talladega this Sunday and by some fortune Jeff Gordon’s not involved, that’s going to turn him back into being a player. Right now he is 10th in the standings, 48 points behind the leader, after finishing 35th in the opening Chase race with a parts failure.

It’s going to take something like the other contenders having setbacks as well to get Jeff Gordon back in this mix. If he gets back in it, the way he’s running right now and performing, they better watch out. The last six races, five top-five finishes – it’s just been an unbelievable performance.