WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) Tony Stewart's return to Watkins Glen International for the first time in three years didn't turn out so well, but he remained upbeat in spite of all that's swirling around the NASCAR star.

Stewart was greeted warmly by fans during driver introductions, but after starting third his day on the road course he once dominnated ended badly. He finished last after losing the rear gear on his No. 14 Chevrolet.

''I guess for me it's big picture,'' said Stewart, who has a record five wins at Watkins Glen. ''The way our season has been, we've picked up. At the end of the day, the results don't show it, but I feel like we are starting to gain some momentum.''

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Stewart missed the previous two Cup races at The Glen. Two years ago, he was nursing a broken right leg and he sat out last year's race after the sprint car he was driving in a race at nearby Canandaigua struck and killed 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. the night before Stewart was scheduled to race at Watkins Glen.

On Friday, Stewart again had to revisit that tragedy. Attorneys representing the Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stewart, another hurdle in what has been a season without much hope until recently, and Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Ward's death.

The prerace greeting Stewart received put a smile on his face.

''Real good all the way around,'' he said. ''We had a good weekend, as good as it could be. Happy to get to race here today. That is something I have been looking forward to.''