News & Media

Defending champ knows his prognostication limitations

September 13, 2012, Joe Menzer,

CHICAGO -- Even after last year's unforeseen, improbable run to the championship in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Tony Stewart is well aware that he has some limitations.

"Obviously I'm not real good at predicting things. I don't think [Las] Vegas is going to call me and ask me to come out and handicap anything," said a smiling Stewart at Wednesday's 2012 Chase Media Day event at the House of Blues.

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"So we'll see. I really think there are 12 great teams in this Chase, and I really think it's up for grabs. Last year there definitely were five teams that I thought could be ruled out. This year I don't feel like you can really overlook anybody right now."

Last year at this media kickoff event prior to the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway -- which this year will come on Sunday afternoon, by the way, instead of Saturday night -- a despondent Stewart named his own No. 14 Chevrolet group as one of those teams that he didn't think had a chance. He even went so far as to say he didn't deserve his Chase spot and that it was a darn shame that he was taking the place of someone who might actually have a chance to win it.

So what happened next? Stewart went out and won his first race of the 2011 season at Chicagoland and proceeded to win half of the 10 Chase races, including the season finale at Homestead -- when he had to do so to forge a tie in the Chase point standings with Carl Edwards. He secured the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker, having those five wins on the season to just one for Edwards.

Stewart wasn't the only one caught by surprise by his remarkable run in last year's Chase. Jimmie Johnson, whose five-year reign as champion was ended by Stewart because of it, still marvels at the accomplishment.

"It was spectacular," Johnson said. "It's hard to knock down five wins like that. I know it happened, but I was just thinking about it the other day and I was like, 'Man, he really did win half the races in last year's Chase.' And it's what he had to do to beat Carl in a tiebreaker. That's another part of it there, but the whole body of work was very impressive.

"To come into it and be as upset as he was, saying he didn't deserve a spot in the Chase, and then to win at Chicago to open it up and get on a roll and keep it going, was just beyond incredible."

And Johnson insisted then -- as he does now -- that Stewart was not putting on an act with his pre-Chase declaration last year.

"I believed him," Johnson said. "I could look at his demeanor. His demeanor at [the previous race in] Richmond, at the track, in the car -- and we had a close relationship with him because of our [technical alliance] with Stewart-Haas [Racing]. I knew things weren't cherry, or kosher, over there.

"But when he won at Chicago, where I think he was fast but fuel mileage worked in his favor, you could see how that just anchored that team down. They needed that little spark and they got it. From there, it was on."

Perhaps making the run even more remarkable was the fact that by then Stewart already had decided to replace then-crew chief Darian Grubb with Steve Addington at season's end. Stewart said the perception some have that he alone carried the team on his back to the championship during the final 10 races is incorrect.

"You can't carry a 3,400-pound race car. The better it is, the more you can do with it. But it still has to be right," Stewart said. "You aren't going to take a car that's not a top-three car and go win a race with it. It just doesn't happen anymore like that.

"I'm a little bit pessimistic again. I don't feel like we're as good as we need to be right now."


"So it was the whole package. Our guys stepped up. I felt like Darian stepped up. I stepped up. I felt like we all did it together -- and it just seemed like as one of us got more confident, we all did."

Now, with Grubb the crew chief for top 2012 Chase seed Denny Hamlin, Stewart is poised for another possible championship run, this time with Addington on top of his pit box. And unlike last season, when he hadn't won all year prior to the Chase, Stewart already has won three times and carries the nine bonus points that come with those victories into this year's Chase.

So how does the defending champ feel about his chances?

"I'm a little bit pessimistic again," Stewart said. "I don't feel like we're as good as we need to be right now. I feel like we're in a better position than we were last year, but I still don't feel like we're where we need to be."

That could be bad news for the rest of the Chase field, right?

"I think what happened last year definitely gives you the approach of not giving up hope on it, for sure," Stewart said. "But every season is different and there is no guarantee that it will happen again that way this year for us. We've still got to go out and run our 10 races and do the best we can.

"I really don't rule anybody out. Anyone can win this Chase. Beyond the obvious that we're all pretty much starting out back at square one, all of the teams have shown during the course of this season the ability to run well."