Stewart’s remarkable run

first_img Not that it means much at this point. Unless you’re Jimmie Johnson. There remain four races before the Chase begins, the next race coming Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart, for the time being, is enjoying a stretch few drivers ever get to experience. Jeff Gordon had a similar run in his Cup championship year of 1998, and Johnson had a similar streak to finish up the 2004 season. Tony Stewart showed the rest of the NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers what it takes to move from 10th to first in the points standings. Seven races ago, Stewart was 10th in points, on the bubble, and wondering what he had to do to win a race. Then he won at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, proceeded to rattle off five wins in the past seven races and moved into first place. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 “I’ll be honest, I’ve had zones where I’ve finished in the top three when I was in Midgets and sprint cars, where I could go week-in and week-out and not fall out of the top three,” said Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Joe Gibbs Racing. “But to win five out of the last seven and be in the top five for the last eight weeks is a pretty good record.” No doubt. But no matter how much of a lead Stewart has, if he still has it when the Chase begins, it will be reduced to five points over the second-place driver and 45 points over the 10th-place driver once the green flag drops Sept. 18 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Although Stewart has the edge, however insignificant, with a month to go before the Chase begins, Johnson said he would gladly change places. Johnson has led the Cup points race most of the year. He lost his lead two weeks ago, when Stewart won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart has a 115-point lead, but that would all but disappear if the Chase started Sunday. Johnson wants to be on top, or at least near it, when the Chase begins. center_img “I would love to be leading, but more importantly, we need to have our team performing and hitting our stride as we go into Loudon (N.H.),” Johnson said. “That’s more important to me.” Falling short of winning the inaugural Chase for the Championship is still fresh in Johnson’s mind. He won four of the last 10 races, then stumbled through the first three in the Chase, and it cost him at the end. “Last year, we were near the top and lost the momentum,” Johnson said. “We didn’t lead the points going into it, and the reason was that we weren’t where we needed to be at that point. We were doing everything we could, but we really hit our stride four or five races in.” No driver has been as good as Stewart over the past two months. Johnson said he is confident his team can be just as strong as Stewart’s at Michigan. Johnson had a strong car at Michigan in the June race, but handling problems ruined his chances near the end, and he finished 19th. “We had a good race up there last time,” Johnson said. “We were fair and just didn’t get the finish we wanted at the end of the day. After our run at Indy even though it looked bad from the outside, with the crash and going to the back of the pack and all we had a very good race car and passed a lot of cars. We started to sort some stuff out, and I’m really excited about Michigan.” Stewart was second to Greg Biffle in the June Michigan race, in which he led a race-high 97 laps. Stewart said it launched his current stretch. “I’m really excited,” Stewart said. “That’s where this run really started. It’s just one of those tracks in a string of tracks where we started running well. I can’t think of a better place to go back to a second time after the run we had there in the spring.” Tim Haddock covers motor sports for the Daily News. He can be reached at (818) 713-3715 or [email protected] NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES GFS Marketplace 400 Site: Brooklyn, Mich. Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (TNT, 10 a.m.); Sunday, race (TNT, 11 a.m.). Track: Michigan International Speedway; D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns. Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps. Next race: Sharpie 500, Aug. 27, Bristol, Tenn. On the Net: www.nascar.com. NASCAR BUSCH SERIES Domino’s Pizza 250 Site: Brooklyn, Mich. Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 7 a.m.), race (TNT, noon). Track: Michigan International Speedway; D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns. Race distance: 250 miles, 125 laps. Next race: Food City 250, Aug. 26, Bristol, Tenn. FORMULA ONE Turkish Grand Prix Site: Istanbul, Turkey. Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 3 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed Channel, 4:30 a.m.). Track: Istanbul Park; road course, 3.342 miles, 14 turns. Race distance: 192.451 miles, 57 laps. Next race: Italian Grand Prix, Sept. 4, Monza, Italy. On the Net: www.formula1.com. INDY RACING LEAGUE Honda Indy 225 Site: Fountain, Colo. Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m.; Sunday, race (Ch. 7, 12:30 p.m.). Track: Pikes Peak International Raceway; D-shaped oval, 1 mile, 10 degrees banking in turns. Race distance: 225 miles, 225 laps. Next event: Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix, Aug. 28, Sonoma. On the Net: www.indyracingleague.com. NHRA O’Reilly Mid-South Nationals Site: Memphis, Tenn. Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN2, 5 p.m., tape); Sunday, eliminations, 1 p.m. (ESPN2, 7 p.m., tape). Track: Memphis Motorsports Park. Next event: Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Sept. 5, Indianapolis. 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