Monday, December 11, 2017
Sports

Stewart's confidence growing

LONG POND, Pa. — Tony Stewart ducked through a tent in the garage and was headed off toward the No. 14.

"Make it two in a row, Tony!" a fan yelled as Stewart hustled through the Pocono Raceway garage.

With a second practice session on tap, Stewart had little time Saturday to dissect why his car is suddenly one of the ones to beat.

Stewart is coming off his first win of the season, in Sprint Cup's FedEx 400 last weekend at Dover, Del., and his second straight top-10 finish, results that have thrust the three-time Cup champion into the No. 1 wild-card spot in the Chase for the Championship.

Stewart was one of the few drivers who participated last month in an open Pocono test in the Gen-6 car. With practice and qualifying washed out Friday, Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington have additional resources on hand to help master the 2½-mile triangle track.

There are more reasons to think Stewart can keep the push going at Pocono. His last Pocono win, in 2009, was his first as a car owner at Stewart-Haas Racing, and he finished fifth and third at the two Pocono races last season.

No Cup driver has won consecutive races this season, but a confident Stewart has always been a dangerous Stewart. That could be the difference today in the Party in the Poconos 400.

"It's definitely momentum that we need right now," he said. "It's hopefully quieted some of the rumors that were a big drama at the shop for us. So getting that calmed down was as much of the problem as anything."

Stewart used his postrace news conference at Dover to deny he was considering giving Addington the boot because of a slow start in the point standings. Addington, who took over as crew chief last season, appreciated such a public backing. Addington made a late pit call to take two tires that was one of the defining decisions last weekend.

"It's good to get that hopefully behind us," Stewart said. "Now we can get back to work again."

For whatever reason, Stewart sputtered early in the season. He had seven straight races of 17th or worse and only one other top 10 before finishing seventh two races ago, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He passed Juan Pablo Montoya with three laps left at Dover to end a 30-race winless streak. His 48th career win pushed him to 16th in the point standings and aided his cause for a wild-card spot. The two drivers in the 11th to 20th spots in the standings with the most wins earn a wild-card spot in the Chase. Stewart is the only driver in those spots with a victory.

Stewart also is only 33 points outside the top 10, which isn't much for him to make up over the next 13 races before the Chase field is set. Stewart has 42 career victories after June 1.

Driver change: AJ Allmendinger will replace scuffling Bobby Labonte (28th in points) in the No. 47 Toyota next week in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway for JTG-Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger has driven a limited NASCAR schedule since being suspended for a failed drug test last year.

. fast facts

Sprint Cup points

After 13 of 36 races. The top 10 in points plus two wild cards after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Jimmie Johnson 473—

Carl Edwards 443 30

Clint Bowyer 423 50

Matt Kenseth 399 74

Kevin Harvick 399 74

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 398 75

Kasey Kahne 392 81

Brad Keselowski 375 98

Kyle Busch 374 99

Paul Menard 371 102

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