Generally, it's not a good sign when professional athletes start talking about how they are still mathematically in contention for a championship. That often means they have been realistically eliminated. But Tony Stewart was using the "M" word this week, and, in his case, perhaps, there is a realistic chance he could jump back into the thick of the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Chase for the Championship.
Stewart arrives at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 in 10th place among 12 drivers in the playoffs. He is 127 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, and, no, none of those numbers are good.
But with seven races left, they are not doomsday numbers.
Or as Stewart put it, "We're not out until we're mathematically out."
The two-time series champion has several positives to point toward.
Case in point was Sunday's run at Kansas. Stewart led a race-high 76 laps and contended until the end. He finished fourth, which helped him push thoughts of 24th- and 21st-place finishes in the first two Chase races into the background.
"Definitely, we're a better team" than Stewart-Haas Racing showed in New Hampshire and Dover, Stewart said. "Kansas was proof of that. But still, those first two weeks are what they are. We can't go back and redo it. It's a tough situation to be in where we got behind in two weeks. We have seven more weeks to get everything we can get out of them."
The view of those seven more weeks is scenic for Stewart.
While Auto Club Speedway is bigger than Kansas (2.0 miles vs. 1.5), it shares Kansas' D-shape and moderate banking. An his average finish in his past eight races in Southern California is 10.1. In 18 career starts, Stewart has led 234 laps and has 10 top-10 finishes. He finished fifth there a year ago.
Fontana is, Stewart says, a drivers' track. And brother, does he love that.
"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car," he said. "Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."
Beyond Fontana, there are several more tracks where Stewart has earned money.
Five of the final seven tracks are superspeedways — 1.5 miles or more — and Stewart has 20 wins at those kinds of places.
The other two tracks are Martinsville (where Stewart has won twice) and Phoenix (which Stewart loves).
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, really," Stewart said. "It's a situation where I wish we could say that we're right in the middle of this … but in the first two weeks, we dug ourselves a pretty big hole."
So, he said, "We literally have a go-for-broke attitude. We don't have anything to lose right now. Tenth doesn't mean anything to me in the point standings. I'm going for everything I can get right now."
And let the math take care of itself.