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Year in Review: Stewart disappointed with ninth-place finish in 2012 Chase

December 06, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Tony Stewart failed to re-capture the magic of the late-season run that propelled him to the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. (Getty Images)

Year in Review: Stewart disappointed with ninth-place finish in 2012 Chase

Tony Stewart doesn't normally mince words. So when asked to sum up his 2012 Cup season, the three-time champion didn't hesitate in his response.

Even though he won three races -- including a long-sought victory at Las Vegas -- and made the Chase for the sixth consecutive season, 2012 didn't live up to Stewart's expectations.

"We didn't have the season we wanted, but we also knew that it would be tough to duplicate the kind of run we had last year."

--TONY STEWART

Tony Stewart

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives93
Top-10s115
Poles10
DNF's11
Laps Led36357
Avg. Start17.819.7
Avg. Finish13.414.5

"Disappointing," Stewart said. "I was hoping for a lot more. And it's not because we didn't win, but I thought that we were a lot better team than a ninth-place team in the championship. I was disappointed with that, but it shows how competitive the series is.

"You look at the two guys who tied in the points last year -- Carl [Edwards] didn't win a race and didn't make the Chase. You can be on top one minute and turn around the next minute and be quite a bit behind. So it makes you focus a lot on trying to stay on top, for sure."

Stewart would have been hard-pressed to have put together a repeat of his amazing 2011 Chase, when he won five times -- including three of the final four races -- to beat Edwards in a tie-breaker. But after dropping from sixth to 10th in the standings after a disastrous four-race stretch beginning at Watkins Glen, Stewart hoped a fourth-place effort at Richmond would be the springboard to a repeat performance.

Stewart got off on the right foot with a sixth at Chicagoland and a seventh at Loudon, but he led just one lap over the final eight races and finished outside of the top 10 six times.

"We didn't have the season we wanted, but we also knew that it would be tough to duplicate the kind of run we had last year," he said.

That kind of inconsistency won't cut it in this day and age, according to Stewart.

"Every racing series keeps getting more competitive every year," Stewart said. "The World of Outlaws keeps getting more competitive, the Indy Racing League keeps getting more competitive and NASCAR keeps getting more competitive.

"With that, that opportunity to have a mulligan or have a bad race -- you really can't afford to, because the 12 guys in the Chase aren't all going to have that bad race. Somebody's going to put together 10 weeks in a row that may not be perfect, but they're going to be good enough to get the job done."

Stewart may have been disappointed with the eventual outcome, but that's not to say there weren't some impressive highlights during the year. Homestead was Stewart's 500th career Cup start, making him the 31st driver to reach that plateau.

Stewart's three wins in 2012 moved him past Buck Baker for 14th on NASCAR's all-time victory list -- and just one behind Herb Thomas. Three more victories would give Stewart 50 career wins, a feat accomplished by only 12 other drivers.

And the win at Las Vegas -- coming one year after dominating the race, only to lose on fuel mileage -- leaves just Darlington and Kentucky as the two tracks on the current Cup schedule where Stewart hasn't celebrated in Victory Lane.

"I think winning Las Vegas was great," Stewart said. "To win at a track where we hadn't won before was special for me, personally."

With three more races on his schedule before the calendar flips to 2013, Stewart still has a chance to finish the year off on a good note. Of course, for Stewart, any time he climbs behind the wheel, it's a good day.

That means he gets to concentrate on the thing he loves best -- driving -- instead of the day-to-day task of running a race team.

"I'm going to be at almost 95 races," Stewart said. "I'm excited about that. That's still what I love to do. But we won't spend a lot of time worrying about those three. We've got a whole season next year with three teams that we're going to worry about instead."

Direct. Outspoken. Blunt. Candid. Tony Stewart doesn't mince words.

"I'm honest and say what's on my mind, and I don't take crap from anybody and have just always stayed who I am," Stewart said. "I've never changed who I was and have never changed my views on things to be popular. I've just stayed the course and I think people respect that."

Watch all of Stewart's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.