INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Stewart says after getting his initial victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2005, the pressure on him for a popular hometown win evaporated. It doesn't mean he wants another Brickyard victory any less.
Stewart, a Columbus, Ind., native, will vie for a third Indy triumph in Sunday's Crown Royal Curtiss Shaver 400 at 1 p.m. ET in the Sprint Cup Series' 19th visit to the hallowed Indy track.
Being competitive in his own backyard has come easy to Stewart, who also won at Indianapolis in 2007, as his impressive average finish of 8.1 is the best of any stock-car driver in the field. The performance edge has made it that much easier to call the 2.5-mile track home.
"Probably the best part is we have so many friends and family that get to come up to the Brickyard," Stewart said. "That makes the days even that much better.
"As far as putting pressure on ourselves, I don't think we really do that anymore," Stewart added. "As time has gone on, I think after we won that first one in 2005, it's just taken a huge weight off our shoulders on that side, and we just go at it every year with the attitude that we know what it takes to win there and we try to do our best to accomplish it."
Another reason some of the pressure has subsided this season is Stewart's relatively firm footing as the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup postseason berths approach. Stewart ranks seventh in the series standings, but he's in a tight knot of drivers on the edge of qualifying for the playoffs by making the top 10; only nine points separate sixth-place Kevin Harvick from 10th-place Brad Keselowski.
Even with the tenuous grip on a top-10 spot, Stewart's strength stems from his three wins -- tying Keselowski for the most in the series this year. Should either of those two drivers fall from the ranks of the top 10, they would be in prime position for one of two wild-card spots for drivers in positions 11-20 with the most wins.
"I think the biggest thing for us right now, even though it's a big weekend, [is] this is one battle in the war -- and the war is to try to win a championship at the end of the season," Stewart said. "To do that, we have got to beat the system.
"So, I don't think an all-or-nothing attitude is the approach we are going to have this week," Stewart said. "We definitely have that luxury to do that with the three wins that we've got, but I think right now in the big picture, we are trying to get the consistency the best we can, and I would like to see us put together some consistent runs before the Chase actually starts."
Danica determined in Indy homecoming
Danica Patrick will mark her eighth straight year of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Saturday. It's a solid streak, but this season's trip will be a different beast altogether.
Patrick hopes to build upon her wealth of Indy experience as the Nationwide Series makes its first visit to the 2.5-mile speedway for Saturday's Indiana 250 at 4:30 p.m. ET. While Patrick certainly knows her way around the Brickyard, this will be her first Indy experience in a stock car, which weighs more than twice as much as the IndyCars she used to pilot.
Patrick is no stranger to firsts at Indianapolis -- she became the first woman in track history to lead laps in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and notched a best finish of third place in the 2009 race.
"I have such good memories and feel so good when I come into the track and just see the facility," Patrick said. "I think those good emotions, those positive emotions a lot of times can translate to a good weekend, so I look forward to that. I look forward to seeing the fans from Indianapolis. My family lives there -- my sister and my parents do now -- so it should be a fun weekend and I look forward to the experience in a stock car."
Saturday's race will also have extra incentive in the form of the Dash 4 Cash program, with points leader Elliott Sadler, defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett eligible for a $100,000 bonus that goes to the highest finisher among that quartet.
Six-figure payday or not, Sadler -- last week's winner at Chicagoland Speedway -- suggests motivation won't be a problem at one of NASCAR's crown-jewel tracks.
"It's going to be a big deal," Sadler said. "It's always pretty special when you can win the inaugural race anywhere. I was able to do that in St. Louis in 1998 and I still look at that trophy and think that's something no one can take away from you. We're going to go there loaded for bear."
Sadler holds an 11-point edge in the standings over Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon after 18 of 33 races this year. Stenhouse -- like Sadler, a three-time Nationwide winner this season -- ranks third, 19 points back.
- Tony Stewart
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway