Chicagoland: Round 18 preview

Tony Stewart "Climbing" His Way Back to the Top of the Standings DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 2006) -- Tony Stewart's (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) winning performance at last Saturday's Pepsi 400 clearly sent a message to the rest of the NASCAR...

Tony Stewart "Climbing" His Way Back to the Top of the Standings

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 2006) -- Tony Stewart's (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) winning performance at last Saturday's Pepsi 400 clearly sent a message to the rest of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competitors. The two-time series champion is "climbing" his way back into the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship race and appears to be back in form heading into this Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m., EDT, TNT).

Following his second straight July victory at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart did what he's done since his initial Pepsi 400 win a year ago -- he climbed the frontstretch fence, captured the checkered flag and waved it to the throng of fans celebrating in the grandstands. Only this time, the defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion took it a step further, becoming engulfed in the sea of fans below as he descended from the fence.

Not bad for someone who broke his shoulder blade a month ago after hitting the wall at the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Since that injury, Stewart had struggled with finishes of 42nd, 25th, 3rd, 41st and 28th, and had slipped to seventh in the standings. Saturday's win, the 26th of his career and second this season, could prove the right tonic for another second-half run.

"This team needed this," Stewart said last Saturday night. "We had two rough weeks the last couple of weeks with Michigan and Sonoma. It's nice to finish this one off here."

While the next 10 weeks may personify NASCAR's past, present and future, in pure competition terms they present a variety of challenges to drivers trying to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Stewart's second straight Pepsi 400 win moved him up two spots to fifth in the standings. Chicagoland Speedway, the site of race No. 2 in the Race to the Chase, has been a venue where Stewart has enjoyed consistent success in the five-year history of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series there. Stewart won at Chicagoland in 2004 and has posted four straight top-five finishes at the 1.5 tri-oval. His 275 laps led at Chicagoland are the most by any driver, and as the mid-way point of the 2006 season approaches, it's safe to say the No. 20 team appears in the thick of the championship hunt once again.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart