Tony Stewart looking for breathing room in Texas
Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 6, 2005 at 3:02 a.m.
Tony Stewart is still the guy to beat in NASCAR’s Chase for the Nextel Cup championship. That doesn’t mean he’s feeling comfortable.
Not only is runner-up Jimmie Johnson just 43 points behind entering the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway today, five other drivers are clinging to title hopes with three races left in the 10-race Chase.
‘‘I want to be 125 points ahead, like I should be,’’ Stewart said.
He points to a flat tire last month in Charlotte that sent his car hurtling into the wall, costing him a possible win and certainly at least a top-five finish. He wound up 25th.
‘‘If you take Charlotte out of the equation, we should be over 100 points ahead of the field right now,’’ Stewart said. ‘‘But it is what it is. I would rather be 43 points ahead than 43 points behind right now, and we only need to win it by one (point).’’
Stewart’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet has finished outside the top 10 just twice in the last 19 races, both in the past six races. That has allowed Johnson, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth, all within 155 points of the leader, to stay in the race for the championship.
‘‘We’re not just racing the 48 car (Johnson),’’ Stewart said. ‘‘We’re racing the entire Chase field right now. We’re not focusing on one team. We’re just going to go out and do what we’ve done every week. It’s what got us in this position.’’
A year ago, Johnson won four of the last six races, dueling with Kurt Busch to the finish. He wound up just eight points behind Busch in the first Chase and the closest 1-2 finish in NASCAR history.
This year, he has two wins in the first seven Chase events, but is coming off a 16th-place finish last Sunday at Atlanta.
‘‘We finished 16th, but it’s not the end of the world,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘There are three to go and we’ll just keep fighting.’’
Johnson, the runner-up in points the past two seasons, added that his finish last year proved how quickly a driver can get hot and make up ground in the Chase.
Last year ‘‘helps build confidence and helps us believe in ourselves and in our team and to stay focused on what the job is that we have to do.’’
Biffle, just 75 points behind Stewart, is oozing confidence, too. He heads into the race on the 1.5-mile oval where he dominated, leading 219 of 334 laps on the way to victory in April.
But considering Stewart’s strong showings in the second half of the season and Johnson’s steadiness, Biffle knows it will take some luck to win a title in his third full season in Cup.
‘‘Here, we have to be in the top five, top three,’’ he said. ‘‘And, if the other guys are, too, it’s a lost cause,’’ he said. ‘‘It all revolves around how well they do. I could win the next three and lose the title by 30 or 40 points if the 20 or 48 finish second in every race.
‘‘For Tony, it will be about not losing it, and for Jimmie and I and Carl and Ryan, it would be about winning it because, certainly, we’re all right there and anything can happen. It’s definitely a crapshoot right now.’’
But Stewart, who won a championship in 2002, still controls his destiny.
‘‘It’s more about making sure you don’t have bad luck at this point,’’ he said. ‘‘It seems like that’s the biggest controlling factor in the point championship. There’s a reason all of us (in the Chase) got in the position we’re in. It seems like the biggest changing factor each week is looking at who has bad luck.’’
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