On the eve of the championship

On the eve of the championship

If Tony Stewart is nervous about his championship chase on the eve of the season finale, he isn't about to let you know it. Stewart's fate is in the hands of the people that he trusts the most -- himself and crew chief Greg Zipadelli. A 10th...

If Tony Stewart is nervous about his championship chase on the eve of the season finale, he isn't about to let you know it.

Stewart's fate is in the hands of the people that he trusts the most -- himself and crew chief Greg Zipadelli. A 10th place finish in the Ford 400 on Sunday (3:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC) will give Stewart his second Cup Series championship. He also won the title under the old format three years ago.

Tony Stewart.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
Yet, despite needing a solid finish, and after nearly wrecking his car in a spin during practice on Friday, Stewart looks like he's enjoying himself. It seems like he's already been asked the question a thousand times, but he keeps giving the same answer.

"We're not doing anything different this week," Stewart said repeatedly since arriving in Florida on Thursday. "We're still going out and trying to get the maximum points. I mean how do you do this week versus the other 35 weeks that we've been doing it? The approach is the same."

The approach may be the same and Stewart hopes that the results are the same, but any way you look at it, the stakes are much higher. Stewart has been the most consistent driver on the circuit this season. He is tied for the most wins, has the most top-10s, has led the most laps and so on, but that doesn't change the fact that one bad break on Sunday could make or break his year.

Stewart qualified 20th on Saturday and did his best to shrug off the mediocre qualifying effort even after seeing championship contender Carl Edwards grab the pole.

"We didn't go out there with the intention of getting on the pole or anything," Stewart said. "We just wanted to make a qualifying lap. We didn't do a qualifying run last night because I spun, and that took our qualifying setup away from us. So, a good solid lap there and got something that was comfortable and the good thing is the car felt good."

Tony Stewart.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
As far as keeping himself occupied, Stewart has run the gamut with the media this weekend and is looking forward to getting into the car on Sunday so that he can do what he loves best. The pre-championship has hit a fever pitch and Stewart admits that he hasn't had much time to work through the different scenarios that would give him the title.

"I haven't had time," Stewart said. "I've been busy doing commercials. I've been going to eat and going to sleep. I'm not even worried about it at this point."

Stewart has also done a great job of making sure that his entire team is relaxed. He reasons that after pulling off five wins in a seven week stretch that included a milestone victory in the Brickyard 400, his squad has met every pressure situation that they've come up against. They put a hammerlock on the championship in August and haven't looked back since.

"It's just like I told the guys today, just have fun," Stewart explained. "Just relax and have a good time because that's what this weekend is about for us. So, we don't have to create magic this weekend, we just have to go out and have a solid performance and the rest of it will take care of itself."

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Series NASCAR-CUP

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