News & Media

Cup Preview: Stewart would rather win than crunch numbers

September 02, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

With Chase near, 14 team takes simple approach to season success at Atlanta

As the laps wind down during Sunday's Sprint Cup race, the brains of a hefty handful of drivers will be going through some very serious mathematical workouts as they attempt to figure out where they stand vis-a-vis the Chase.

Tony Stewart insists he will not be one of those drivers because he will have just one number in mind, both before and during the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- one.

"I probably have the most simplistic approach of anybody," Stewart said. "It's always been, if you win races, the points will take care of themselves."

Burst of power

Tony Stewart is holding onto the 10th position in points, but without a win. He leads the first non-wild-card driver Clint Bowyer by 22 points.

Pos.DriverWinsAvg. Fin.
9.Dale Jr.112.5
10.T. Stewart311.6
11.B. Keselowski030.5
12.C. Bowyer015.5
13.D. Hamlin018.4
20.P. Menard022.0
21.D. Ragan025.6
22.M. Ambrose022.2

With just two races left until the start of the Chase, Stewart's simplistic approach appears to have a strong foundation.

The two-time Cup Series champion, winless at this point in 2011, holds down the 10th spot in the points standings -- the final spot which automatically sends its owner to the playoffs. He knows that if he leaves Atlanta on Sunday with a lead of 49 points or more over whoever is 11th in points, he will be in the Chase no matter what happens at Richmond in the final non-Chase event.

There are a number of formulas which would put Stewart at, or above, that magic number of 49.

But there is only one best formula for Stewart -- win on Sunday.

"You just go out and do everything you can to try and finish as high as you can, no matter if you're in the Chase or not," he said.

Stewart is shaping up as a good bet to get a Chase berth -- via being in the top 10 in points or by way of a wild card entry (two of those go to drivers outside the top 10 who have the most victories) -- because he is a very good bet to win this weekend.

The Indiana native has won three times at the 1.54-mile, super-fast Atlanta quad-oval. His last victory at the track came last Labor Day weekend, and an impressive win it was as he led 176 of 325 laps and beat runner-up Carl Edwards to the line by 1.3 seconds.

"We had a car that was just dominant all night long," Stewart said, "and you just don't get very many nights where you've got a car that's that good. So, hopefully when we go back we're going to have that same opportunity."

Stewart's other victories at Atlanta came in 2002 (the year he won his first Cup championship) and 2006 (the year after he won his second). Scattered among those victories are six other top-five finishes. Those numbers add up to confidence.

"It always makes you feel good because know how to win there," said Stewart, who has an average finishing position of 11.6 (second best after Jimmie Johnson among all starters on Sunday) at AMS. "It's a matter of getting that feel to know what you need for the race. You always have that level of confidence knowing that you've been successful there in the past and you know how to do it."

And as a team owner/driver, Stewart has a bit of extra want-to going for him when it comes to the Chase.

"I want to make the Chase more than anything," he said. "I want it for our sponsors. I want it for our organization. But most of all, I just want us to get back on track."

At Atlanta on Sunday, the plan for all of that is simple: Just win, baby!

Who's Hot / Who's Not

• Kyle Busch has top-10 finishes in four of the past five races with three top-three finishes including a win at MIS.
• Jeff Gordon's worst finish in the past nine races is 13th at Watkins Glen; he's finished sixth or better in four of the past five races.
• Jimmie Johnson has top-10 finishes in five of the past six races including the past four.
• Brad Keselowski has 15 career top-10 finishes. Seven of the 15 came in the past nine races.
• Ryan Newman's Worst finish in the past seven races is 16th at Watkins Glen. He has eight top-five finishes in 2011 including four in the past seven races.
• Martin Truex Jr. has two top-five finishes in 2011, both in the past three races including a season-best finish of second at Bristol last week.
• Clint Bowyer has just one top-10 finish in the past eight races and has dropped from ninth in points to 12th in the eight-race span.
• Kurt Busch dropped from fourth in points to eighth in points in the past four races with two DNFs and a 17th-place finish at Bristol.
• Carl Edwards has just two top-10 finishes in the past six races with a best finish of seventh at Pocono.
• Denny Hamlin has just two top-10 finishes in the nine races since his win at Michigan in June.
• Kevin Harvick has just one top-10 finish in the past seven races (sixth at Watkins Glen).

* Track Smack: Which driver has the best chance of winning to bolster their playoff hopes?