Love him or hate him — and his brash style provides precious little middle ground — Tony Stewart is back on top.
Some are drawn to his take-no-prisoners style and cocky attitude, while others despise him for the same reasons.
Still, a case can be made that Stewart, who cut his teeth running midget cars on dirt tracks, is one of the top drivers in NASCAR history. His two Sprint Cup wins this season moved him into a tie for 14th all time with 46.
And, after claiming title No. 3 last season, only Richard Petty (seven), Dale Earnhardt (seven), Jimmie Johnson (five) and Jeff Gordon (four) own more Sprint Cup titles than Stewart, who also won in 2002 and 2005.
Stewart, who has won nearly 10 percent of his career starts, is among the favorites despite starting 23rd in today's STP 400. He previously won at Kansas Speedway in 2006 and '09.
But perhaps his greatest appeal is that he simply loves racing.
He made the tough transition to driver/owner when he left Joe Gibbs Racing and started his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing, before the '09 season.
Obviously, he put together a successful team in short order.
"Corporation-wise, we're probably not as corporate as some of the other teams are, but we're a die-hard group of racers, that's for sure," Stewart, 40, said. "And if that's what helps produce the results, we'll take it."
In fact, Stewart was skipping town after qualifying to run at Eagle Raceway, a one-third mile dirt oval in Lincoln, Neb.
"I'm pretty excited about getting there and getting a chance to run my sprint car again," Stewart said. "I've got 40 races on my schedule this year, so I've got more sprint-car races than I do stock-car races. I'm pretty happy about that."
As for Sprint Cup, his No. 14 team picked up right where it left off with wins that year at Las Vegas and Fontana, plus a 150-mile duel race at Daytona.
"These guys did such an awesome job last year in the Chase, and then it seems like as soon as the Chase was over — literally Monday morning — they were back at it, wanting to figure out what we could do to get back to another one," Stewart said.
QUALIFYING: AJ Allmendinger rolled off the track and hopped out of his car, convinced that he had put together a decent qualifying run but expecting to start somewhere in the top 15.
Turns out he'll start up front.
Allmendinger took his second Sprint Cup pole Saturday, turning a lap of 175.993 mph in his Penske Racing Dodge to knock Kevin Harvick off the top spot for today's STP 400.
"I was kind of shocked by it," Allmendinger said of his lap.