* Desert showdown: Stewart ready for challengers at one of his favorite tracks DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 8, 2005) -- Clocks are ticking, days are passing and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) perhaps is inching toward a second ...
* Desert showdown: Stewart ready for challengers at one of his favorite tracks
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 8, 2005) -- Clocks are ticking, days are passing and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) perhaps is inching toward a second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship.
Yet much remains to be decided.
The last two events in the 2005 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup must be staged, and Stewart's 38-point lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) offers breathing room, no more. Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by TECHRON at Phoenix International Raceway is the next hurdle, and a large one. It will set the stage for the Nov. 20 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and a good day in the desert is a must-have for Stewart.
"I'm going out to win these last two races," he said. "I'm going at it just like I do every week. There's no reason to do anything differently. There's nothing that you do now that you didn't do before. It's just the end of the year and there's more on the line, but you still do the same things that got you here."
If so, Stewart should feel comfortable. His familiarity with Phoenix -- a flat, one-mile oval nestled at the foot of the Estrella Mountains -- dates back to 1993, and career statistics affirm his affinity for the track. He has one win -- during his rookie NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season of 1999 -- and four top-10 finishes in seven career series starts at Phoenix. He finished 33rd in the inaugural spring event there.
But Stewart's history extends beyond NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition. He has driven six different types of race vehicles in competition at Phoenix -- USAC Midgets, USAC Silver Crown cars, Indy cars, Super Modifieds, a NASCAR Busch Series car and his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car. If anyone knows the Phoenix groove, it's Stewart. His 100th series start came there in 2001, and he insists that the track exhibits multiple personalities.
"Everybody calls it a flat track, but to me one end is flat and one end has banking to it," Stewart said. "It's a unique place because the radius of the corners are different on each end, the banking of the corners are different on each end, and then you have the dogleg on the backstretch."
Consistency has been Stewart's ally during the Chase. He has six top-10 finishes in the seven previous Chase races, excellence that has allowed him to withstand challenges from Johnson and third-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), currently third in the standings, 77 points behind Stewart.