Fan’s View: Stewart Saved the Best for the Chase

Following the race at Richmond International Raceway in early September, Tony Stewart fans could breathe a bit easier: in spite of no wins during the "regular season," Stewart had made it into the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, sneaking in at ninth place. Stewart was no stranger to the Chase, having won the last Chase not won by Jimmie Johnson in 2005, but he was also no stranger to missing it, which he did in 2006, the year following his last title.

2011 was an odd year for Stewart and his organization, Stewart-Haas Racing. In those first 26 races of the season, Stewart managed just three top three finishes, but racked up 17 top 15 finishes with only one DNF when he crashed at Infineon Raceway following an incident with Brian Vickers. His teammate, Ryan Newman, had a much stronger season, winning the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (SHR's first-ever one-two finish) as well as two poles; he locked into the Chase before the final regular season race in Richmond.

Before the Chase was on, Stewart made mention in an interview that his team didn't deserve to be in the Chase - they would just be robbing the space from someone who might actually have a chance at winning. Those words hit crew chief Darian Grubb and the rest of the team hard - and they all started working harder to change the boss' mind.

Grubb still isn't sure what they found, but they seem to have found it at the right time: Stewart is two-for-two in the Chase races, picking up wins at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He moved from ninth-seed following the reordering of the standings to a seven-point lead on second-place Kevin Harvick, and has people scratching their heads following his victory lane comment on getting rid of "some dead weight" last week - a comment he isn't expounding on.

Stewart seems to excel when it comes to making people think - why he started his own team, why he had such a rough regular season, why he's on the comeback trail, and why people seem to work so hard to please him. Maybe after these first two Chase races, he'll have people wondering if he can break Johnson's streak and take a championship.

Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who has followed Stewart's career since his days in the Indy Racing League.

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Paula Thompson is a member of the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Updated Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011