No matter the outcome, Tony Stewart will retire as a champion

When the checkered flag waves Sunday at Dover International Speedway, four drivers championship hopes will be dashed as the field shrinks from 16 to 12.

The four drivers at the bottom right now are rookie Chris Buescher in 16th, Tony Stewart in 15th, Austin Dillon in 14th and Jamie McMurray in 13th.

Now you can never count a guy like Tony Stewart out. He's a three-time champion and he proved to everyone in 2011 that miracles do happen.

There's no ignoring the fact however that it's going to be a tall order for him to continue in the Chase. Going into Sunday's race he is 11 points out which equates to 11 positions. Those are numbers based on the guys back there with him not stepping up and winning the race.

If you look back at Michigan in June to Watkins Glen, Tony Stewart looked like a championship contender. He had five top-5 finishes and the win at Sonoma. It didn't matter where we went, Tony was running up front.

Unfortunately, it seems like the wheels have come off. His best finish since Watkins Glen was 16th at Chicagoland in the Chase opener.

So, the way they have been running of late, it's simply not looking too good for the No. 14 car.

I want to make sure I stress this to everyone. It doesn't matter whether he advances or whether he gets eliminated Sunday, Tony Stewart is going out as a champion.

He's a first ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer. How he closes out his final year does not define his career.

I know we all would love to see the story-book type ending we got last year when Jeff Gordon retired by winning a race and making it all the way to the championship round at Homestead.

If that happens for Tony, then we all win because we get to be a part of it. It doesn't matter how these next eight races play out for Tony because he's leaving our sport as a winner and a champion.