With challenges ahead, Stewart ready for battle to make the Chase

On his way to a third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, in which he did so by winning half of the Chase races, Tony Stewart earned one of those wins at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September of 2011.

It was his most current of three victories at the ‘Magic Mile’ and magic is what Stewart acknowledges he needs to recapture with this year’s Chase getting closer. Entering Sunday’s event, the Camping World RV Sales 301, Stewart sits 10th in points, currently in the Chase but not by much. He’s hoping that having tested at NHMS a few weeks ago it’ll lead to another strong run, putting a cushion between himself and the Chase bubble.

“I’m excited about it. It didn’t seem like it drove any different than it had with the other car,” Stewart said on a Thursday teleconference with the media about the upcoming weekend.

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“Just a matter of going through the same process that we did with the other cars, just trying to get balanced. Still seems like the handling characteristics are the same. You fight loose entry and exit and tight in the center. It’s figuring out how to keep that balance. Track was fast. So I’m looking forward to it, for sure.”

A runner-up finish at Daytona last Saturday night helped catapult Stewart into a Chase spot, currently. He had been sitting 16th before the race but was one of a few drivers who left the unpredictable speedway with a big point gain. The performance of his Stewart-Haas Racing team hasn’t been where it should be, Stewart knows. Yet says they aren’t far off from getting there.

They’ve been testing at many different tracks which are upcoming, participating in a tire test at Indianapolis, where Stewart is a two-time winner and where the series heads in two weeks. They have a rare but much needed off weekend coming up after New Hampshire, having gone 15 straight weeks since their last one in April.

Many of the tracks over the next eight weeks before the Chase are good ones for Stewart. Not surprising, the summer months are most notably the time when his season gets rolling and he finds his form. In order to make the Chase and have another shot at championship, he’ll need some more of that.

What exactly leads to that success, Stewart isn’t sure. He guesses that it’s because of the heat, which make the tracks slick. And slick tracks are Stewart’s bread and butter.

“The biggest thing is we seemed to be so far off at Sonoma, so underestimated how we thought our car was going to be for the race. I just feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Stewart noted of one of the upcoming races including another road course at Watkins Glen, which he’s concerned about.

A heavy favorite just a few weeks on the California road course, Stewart qualified 11th but finished 28th. He never challenged the leaders or led a lap. At Watkins Glen he’s a five-time winner.

“There were guys that we were around and saw during the race [at Sonoma] that their cars had a lot of grip, were fast, had speed. We just struggled for grip the whole time we were there. That’s something that’s kind of uncharacteristic for us … I think it’s getting the handling where we need to be is the biggest thing I’m worried about right now.”

With how up and down Stewart’s season has been – he has a lone win at Dover, but hasn’t been near the top of the point standings very often – there’s no better time and tracks for Stewart to take advantage of and just in time, too.

“Loudon is a good track for us. We’re looking forward to it,” said Stewart.

“If we can have a good race there this weekend, that will be a lot of momentum to carry for two weeks to come to Indianapolis for the Brickyard.”

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