If you go back to the start of the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, and then all the way through Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, the streak that Tony Stewart is on is pretty darn incredible.
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The man has won seven of our last 15 races. Certainly the places he seems to shine are the 1.5- and 2-mile racetracks.
This weekend, of course, the race is at the short track of Martinsville Speedway. This has been a place that for the the last couple of years, Tony has really struggled at. In the fall Martinsville race, though, he was just about to get lapped when a caution flag came out and saved him from going a lap down. The team then made major wholesale adjustments on the car and the next thing you know, Tony is standing next to one of those famous Martinsville grandfather clocks as the race winner.
Now I won’t sit here and tell you that the No. 14 team is unstoppable, but with the mode Tony and that entire Stewart-Haas Racing team is in right now, they sure are making everyone else’s life pretty darn hard. I would have loved to have seen Sunday’s race at Fontana go the full distance just to see how it all would have played out.
Just look at Tony in qualifying. He was sideways wrecking coming to take the green flag. Really and truly that kills your first lap. I mean it’s well-documented your first lap at Fontana is always your best. Historically, the second lap is never faster. But, that’s the way Tony is right now, he is absolutely tenacious.
Denny Hamlin had a great run going Sunday. I was shocked, though, that any driver came to pit road. The rain was clearly on the radar. You could see it coming off of Turns 3 and 4. It should have been pretty clear to everyone that we were on the brink of trouble and Fontana is a track that simply doesn’t dry quickly.
The two fastest drivers of the day finished first and second – Tony and Kyle Busch. Only 129 laps were able to be run Sunday, but Tony and Kyle led all but seven of those. That’s how dominant they were.
If there was one person even happier than Tony, it had to be Jimmie Johnson. With the mechanical problems his team was having with its car, had this race resumed they were going to be in big trouble.
Going back to Tony, though, they just aren’t skipping a beat right now.
It’s essentially the same race team as a year ago, with a couple of additions. Naturally, Steve Addington is the new crew chief. Tony just knew bringing not only Steve, but adding his old friend and his former crew chief Greg Zipadelli, now competition director at Stewart-Haas, into the mix were the missing pieces that Tony wanted for his organization.
So far in early 2012, those moves are paying big dividends.