WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Tony Stewart didn't compete at Watkins Glen International last year, missing the Sprint Cup race at a track he has dominated for a decade.
Stewart broke two bones in his right leg in a sprint car race last August and missed the rest of the season, ending his streak of consecutive Cup starts at 521.
"I still deal with pain every day, but that's something that's not even going to probably go away by the end of the year," Stewart said last week as he looked on at the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa, the site of his crash. "The reality of it is there might be a point where it will never totally go away, but it doesn't keep me from doing what I love to do."
The forecast for today's 355 at the Glen is sunny with temperatures in the mid 80s.
That means Stewart will be in his element.
"I like it when it gets hot and slick. It kind of plays into our hands," said Stewart, who qualified 13th Saturday for the race. "This is the part of the year when the temperatures are at their highest, and we tend to pick up. … A lot of guys panic because they know it's going to get slick. I get excited when I know it's going to get slick."
The most recent of Stewart's NASCAR-record five wins at the Glen was in the rain-delayed 2009 race on a hot, steamy Monday. That was his seventh triumph on a road course, second all time in the Cup series to Jeff Gordon's nine.
"It's great to have Tony back," Gordon said. "Tony is such an important part of this series and our sport, and such a great personality and talent that when he is not here, we all feel it."
Stewart is 19th in points with five races left before the 10-race Chase for the Championship, and more important with the new Chase format, he's winless.
"When you've won five races, it gives you that confidence that you know how to win and know what you have to do to get to Victory Lane," Stewart said. "I know what I feel I need. It's just a matter of going out and practicing and putting yourself in that position."
Gordon earns pole
Jeff Gordon's resurgent season continued Saturday.
Gordon turned a fast lap of 129.466 mph to earn the pole for today's Sprint Cup race, edging road racing ace Marcos Ambrose and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the second and final round of knockout qualifying.
It was Gordon's first pole this season and his third at Watkins Glen. And he did it on son Leo's birthday.
"I wished him a happy birthday this morning and said, 'All right, I'm going to try to get you that pole,' " Gordon said. "I wasn't real confident in that statement, and now I really can't wait to talk to him."