Tony Stewart has made it very easy to understand.
If he is anywhere near the lead in the final races and a spot in NASCAR’s Chase is on the line, it’s going to get tough up front.
“I would say the last couple races before the Chase starts, if we haven’t won a race, and we’re anywhere near the leader, he’s probably going to get roughed up a little bit, and that’s going to be no matter who it is,” Stewart said. “It’s not just me. Everybody is going to do it.”
Stewart is in danger of not making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title for the first time since 2006. Already one of the toughest competitors on the track, his slump this season might just drive Stewart’s aggression up a few more notches.
If the season ended today, the Columbus native would be on the outside looking in. He currently sits in 19th place in the point standings, and only 16 drivers make the Chase.
But with a single win likely leading to a spot in the Chase, Stewart isn’t out of contention.
Stewart made it clear that you can’t simply drive angry and that you have to pick your spot.
“Being more aggressive doesn’t make the racecar go faster most of the time,” Stewart said. “Normally, if you’re trying to be more aggressive, then you’re making the tires mad and sliding the tires around, which makes your problems worse.
“If it comes down to the last lap of a race, and I’m in position to win and have a shot at it, I might be a little more aggressive. But I haven’t been up there for a while, so we have to get our car better. I think every week, we’ve been finding little things that I like in this new car. We just need to keep digging.”
Seven races remain before the 10-race Chase, including Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Although his best finish is a fourth at Bristol in the fourth race of the season, Stewart has six top-10s. He bounced back from a season-worst 40th-place finish at Daytona to take seventh in the most recent race at Loudon, New Hampshire.
“They have a lot of new guys, a new crew chief, and it takes a time for the crew chief and the driver to blend and understand what each other are talking about,” said Stewart’s father, Nelson. “They’re getting there fast now, so they’re going to win some races.”
Tony Stewart has had to battle back from a broken right leg suffered Aug. 5 during a winged sprint-car race in Iowa that caused him to miss the final 15 races of the 2013 season.
“We all think we’re invincible, and I think he got a little bit caught by surprise with that deal,” Nelson Stewart said. “He’s lucky to have a leg, and he knows that now. At first, I’m not so sure he realized that. He knows what it means to rehab now, how important that is.
“Really, he’s had a pretty good year,” he said. “He’s had a lot of bad luck. To come back from what he went through with that crash, I thought he’s done a terrific job.”
Nelson Stewart doesn’t think the broken leg has had an effect on his son’s driving this season and will be surprised if he doesn’t make the Chase.
Shane Church, who works on the interior and windshield in Stewart’s pit crew, also expects him to make the Chase.
“As soon as we get our first win, we’ll be fine,” Church said. “In the next two weeks, we’ll have one. I think we’ll have a win before the Chase starts.”
Fishers resident Nick Bucholtz, who attended an autograph session and Q&A with Stewart following Friday’s practice at IMS, also is looking for a victory from his favorite driver.
“I think he needs to win a race,” Bucholtz said. “As soon as he wins one, he’ll be fine. Hopefully, he wins Sunday.”