NASCAR: Stewart wins
By Dan Gelston
LOUDON, N.H. ó Tony Stewartís season has gone from winless to winning streak at crunch time.
Donít ask Smoke to explain it.
While Chase drivers around him run out of gas, Stewart has the fuel to go the distance and inject the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a dose of dominance that has him a formidable front-runner for a third title.
Stewart smoked ëem again and made it 2 for 2 in the Chase, pulling ahead when Clint Bowyer ran out of gas with two laps left to win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
ěYou donít see it coming,î Stewart said.
Only a few weeks ago, Stewart considered his car in the Chase a waste of a spot. Bad runs, bad luck, bad everything.
Seems like a different a season.
Stewart is on a roll with eight races left, building on last weekís Chase-opening victory at Chicagoland Speedway with another strong late-race surge at New Hampshire. Both of his victories this season have come in the Chase and have propelled him to the top of the points standings.
The outcome was a complete reversal of the race at New Hampshire last fall, when Stewartís tank ran dry a lap from the checkered flag and Bowyer pounced for the victory.
ěIf thatís not a flip-flop from last year, I donít know what is,î Stewart said over the radio as he crossed the finish line.
Stewart had called this season a ěmiserable yearî before getting hot in the final two races before the Chase. He was third at Atlanta and seventh at Richmond ó just a little sneak preview of what was to come in a Chase he has absolutely owned, this one on a track he loves. In 26 career starts at Loudon, Stewart has three wins and 16 top-10s.
Stewart overtook Kevin Harvick for the points lead and made himself the car to beat after a rather pedestrian regular season. Even Stewart counted himself out him before the Chase, declaring he would call himself, ěa total bumbling idiot,î if he won the championship. He might win his third title ó but donít expect Smoke to call himself a favorite.
ěGot eight long weeks still, man,î Stewart said. ěItís way too early to start counting chickens.î
How about counting wins?
Stewart, who won Cup titles in 2002 and 2005, is the second driver to ever open the Chase with consecutive victories.
ěThe potentialís been there all year,î he said. ěYou wonder when the bad luck string is going to stop. You hope (good luck) happens another eight weeks now. We hope weíre through with it and we can keep clicking off top-fives, top-10s. If we could get a couple of more wins, that would be awesome.î
Stewart led a pack that included four other Chase drivers in the top 10.
Brad Keselowski was second, Jeff Gordon was fourth, Matt Kenseth was sixth and Carl Edwards finished eighth. Gordon rocketed from 11th to sixth in the standings and is still a legitimate contender for his fifth championship.
Gordon ran out of gas last week and was forced to conserve fuel over the waning laps at New Hampshire.
ěItís something that we need to be better at,î he said.
For at least one Chase driver, itís time to start planning for next season. Denny Hamlin, who entered in 12th and a whopping 41 points out, finished 29th and was the worst Chase finisher.
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