Can Stewart keep the momentum going at New Hampshire?
Loudon, NH – Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, mile oval. Start time: 2:00 p.m. (et). Laps: 300. Miles: 317.4. 2010 Winner: Clint Bowyer. Television: ESPN. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.
After winning last Monday's rain-delayed race at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart has become more of a championship contender than a Chase pretender.
Stewart entered the Chase opener at Chicagoland in the ninth seed, and many had considered him as a long shot to win the title. But that's no longer the case for the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion, as he now holds the second spot in the rankings, just seven points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
Round two of the Chase is Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which is one of Stewart's better racetracks on the schedule.
Stewart-Haas Racing had a perfect weekend at this one-mile track in July. Ryan Newman and Stewart qualified and finished 1-2, respectively, here.
Last year when the first Chase race was held at New Hampshire, Stewart was leading with two laps to go, but he ran out of fuel and coasted across the finish line in 24th.
"It was a tough way to start the Chase, that's for sure," he said. "I would've settled for second. If you know exactly how much gas you have, it would be different, but you never know. It's part of the sport, always has been. It's what makes it exciting when you never know until the last lap what's going to happen."
Stewart has recorded 15 top-10 finishes, including two victories, in 25 starts at New Hampshire.
Newman has also been impressive at this track, posting three wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 19 races. He has also claimed five poles here.
"New Hampshire has always been a good place for me," Newman said. "I'm not a hundred percent sure why. It's the place of my first win [September 2002]. This past July, we were able to qualify and finish 1-2 at Stewart-Haas. It's a fun race, and it's a very finesse racetrack. You can't overdrive the car there very much because it's so flat."
Newman sits seventh in the point standings (-14) after finishing eighth at Chicagoland.
Harvick's second-place run earlier this week allowed him to take sole position of first in points. He ended the regular season earlier this month by winning at Richmond.
"Obviously, the last three weeks have been really good for our team," he said. "We've just got to keep going."
Harvick won the 2006 Chase opener at New Hampshire. He finished fifth in both races here last season.
Several Chase drivers are hoping to rebound this weekend after disappointing finishes at Chicagoland. Jeff Gordon tumbled from third to 11th in the standings (-25) after his 24th-place run there.
"That is not how we wanted to start the Chase," Gordon said. "We battled hard throughout the event, and that's what we're going to do at New Hampshire and the other eight races."
Gordon is tied with Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Newman for second most wins at New Hampshire with three each. Jeff Burton, a non-title contender this year, holds the track record with four victories.
Denny Hamlin was the lowest finisher of the 12 Chase drivers at Chicagoland. His 31st-place run there has him now 41 points behind Harvick. Hamlin has finished second and third in the last two races at New Hampshire. He also finished second here in September 2009.
Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Sylvania 300.