* Stewart looks to get back into NASCAR Top 10 * Kenseth leads NASCAR Top 10 for seventh consecutive week * Rusty Wallace set to make 600th consecutive start, out to break winless streak * RIR celebrating 50th anniversary of NASCAR ...
* Stewart looks to get back into NASCAR Top 10
* Kenseth leads NASCAR Top 10 for seventh consecutive week
* Rusty Wallace set to make 600th consecutive start, out to break winless streak
* RIR celebrating 50th anniversary of NASCAR racing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 29, 2003) -- Tony Stewart has fallen out of the NASCAR Top 10 for the first time this season, but by no means is he out of NASCAR Winston Cup championship contention. The reigning series champion has set his sights on reining in the point leaders, secure in the knowledge that there is plenty of time, plenty of races, to do so.
Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) left California Speedway last Sunday with mixed emotions. His race started strongly, but ended badly. He led three times for 100 laps, but on Lap 128 his engine failed, dooming him to a 41st-place finish, by far his worst of the year.
"But, boy, we sure had a heck of a car," Stewart said.
Stewart took the disappointment hard but he also took it in stride, in part because of a similar early-season setback last year. In the 2002 season-opening Daytona 500 an engine problem resulted in a last-place (43rd) finish. Yet he climbed from that points abyss to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
Coming into Saturday night's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Stewart stands 11th in points, 331 behind leader Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), only seven behind 10th-place Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Richmond could be the perfect springboard back into the NASCAR Top 10, as Stewart has emerged as the series' force on the .75-mile oval. In the last seven RIR races there have been five different winners but Stewart is the only repeat winner. He has won three of the last seven, including the last two spring races.
Stewart's other RIR victory, in September 2000, was his first in NASCAR Winston Cup.
"I just really like that track," Stewart said. "It's always been good to us ... and anytime you win your first race somewhere, that track automatically becomes very special to you."
Stewart, though, must try to minimize his affection. It's all about perspective over the course of a 36-race season, with a championship that rewards consistency. And consistency still is key for Stewart, despite his recent exit from the NASCAR Top 10.
"I think that with the way our season is going, we have to look at it like it's just another race," he said. "But it's going to be hard to not have in the back of our mind that because we've won there three times, we should expect to run well again."