Tony Stewart likes to be in control. After a career that has included more than his share of turmoil, Stewart is enjoying the most positive year of his career and is poised to claim his second Cup championship. Stewart has a 52-point lead on ...
Tony Stewart likes to be in control. After a career that has included more than his share of turmoil, Stewart is enjoying the most positive year of his career and is poised to claim his second Cup championship.
Stewart has a 52-point lead on Jimmie Johnson heading into the last race of the season and is the lead car in a four-team pack that still have a mathematical shot at winning the championship. He is the only driver in the enviable position of being in control of his own fate. A ninth or better finish at Homestead on Sunday (3:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC) will clinch the championship. Stewart won the title three years ago.
After some off-track fireworks that included several confrontations with the media, Stewart focused on keeping the excitement on the track this season. He put together a red-hot streak in the summer that included five wins in a seven-race stretch. Even when he didn't take the checkered flag, Stewart was stout. He led the circuit with 25 top-10 finishes this year and frustrated the rest of the field throughout the Chase with seven top-10's in the past nine races.
Stewart took over the points lead after his emotional win at Indianapolis in August. He left the Brickyard as the championship leader for the first time since he won his first title in 2002. Stewart started this year's Chase as the points leader but slipped to fifth in the third race of the championship chase. He reclaimed the top spot with a second place run at Talladega last month.
Stewart hasn't won yet in the final 10-race Chase for the Championship segment, but he just might do it on Sunday to clinch the title in style. He won back-to-back races at Homestead in 1999 and 2000.
"We've taken the same approach all year of not changing anything," Stewart said. "We haven't had a lot of reliability issues. I think if you try to change something now that's when you put yourself at risk of having a problem. I don't think you'll see anything different from our team."
Roush drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle also have an outside shot at claiming the title, but Stewart is the only one of the four drivers still in the hunt that already has a championship under his belt.
"Going through this same scenario two years ago -- it's something that we're used to," said Stewart, who led the final seven weeks and held off Mark Martin for his first NASCAR championship. "All the turmoil that I put the team through in 2002 didn't let us enjoy it as much as I think we all wanted to. It definitely wasn't as gratifying for the team. It would be nice to get it done again this year and have a fairly clean season and have a fun season where we've all enjoyed the year versus being a team that was surrounded by turmoil all year."
If Stewart claims the championship on Sunday, he will become just the 13th driver in the history of the sport to take home the top prize more than once.
"It's tough to win one, but it's even tougher to win multiple championships in any division of racing," Stewart admitted. "To be that good year after year to put yourself in that situation shows the consistency of your team and the talent of your team. It's something that we all strive for."
Tony Stewart: What he needs to do to win
For Stewart, it's simple -- finish ninth or better and he's a two-time champion. Stewart peeled off back-to-back wins at Homestead in 1999 and 2000. He has been a model citizen off the track and the model of consistency on the track, finishing in the top-10 in 24 of 35 events, including 19 of the last 21 races. "I'm the only one that's in the heavyweight division here," the pudgy Stewart joked during Thursday's media conference at the Homestead media centre. "The rest of these guys are in the fly-weight and bantam-weight division so we're really not even competing with each other. This is just a technicality."
Jimmie Johnson: What he needs to do to win
If Johnson wins the race and leads the most laps, he needs Stewart to finish outside of the top-10 to claim the title. Johnson set the pace this season with seven straight top-10 finishes. He held the points lead for most of the first half of the season and spent the rest of the year nipping at Stewarts heals. He finished second each of the past two years, including a heartbreaking eight point deficit to Kurt Busch one year ago. His entire team will be ready to take their best shot on Sunday. "We're not as close as we need to be to have it in our hands. It's a long race and a lot can happen in our sport. We'll just go out and do all we can. That's why I like this sport -- because you have to fight for every inch."
Carl Edwards: What he needs to do to win
Carl Edwards admitted that he was lucky to be in the position to compete for the title. He has been hot with back-to-back wins and then a six-place run last week in Phoenix, but hasn't been able to gain much ground on the consistent Stewart. Edwards racked up four wins and is the surprise of the series in his first full season of competition. He is also third in the Busch Series championship standings. "I feel like we've performed very well. If we don't win a championship, it will just be the way the cards fell. I don't think it will change our mood. I feel like we have the best equipment and the best cars. If we don't win the championship, that's OK, we'll just come back next year and do it."
Greg Biffle: What he needs to do to win
Biffle trails Stewart by 102 points and would need a miracle -- namely a repeat win at Homestead and the other three ahead of him to all get knocked out early -- to walk away from the finale with the big trophy. He is trying to become the first champion in all three of NASCAR's top circuits after claiming the Craftsman Truck Series title in 2000 and the Busch Series title in 2002. He tied Stewart for series lead with five wins this season. "I know how hard I've worked to be here. You have so much respect for the other guys because you know what they had to do. It takes a lot of ability to do what we do every week."