Chase clock continues to tick for Tony Stewart as he hits road
The clock is running for Tony Stewart and his pursuit of a fourth NASCAR Premier Series championship.
With 11 races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, Stewart needs a race victory and to move into the top 30 in points if he wants to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
This week, Stewart carries a little bit of momentum as the series heads west to Sonoma Raceway, site of Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350.
In each of the last two races, Stewart had his best qualifying efforts of the year -- sixth at Pocono Raceway and then third at Michigan International Speedway -- and he finished a strong seventh at Michigan.
At Sonoma, Stewart has a pair of victories and an average finish of 12.41, second among active drivers only to Clint Bowyer's 8.60.
On Friday, Stewart and Ernie Irvan will be inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame.
"I have a long history at Sonoma and a lot of memories there, and to be inducted into the Wall of Fame is a real honor," said Stewart, who made his first Sonoma start in 1999. "I've always loved the challenge of road-course racing and I'm proud of all that we've accomplished at Sonoma. Hopefully, we can put a third win on the board this weekend."
Stewart expects a physical race on Sunday.
"It is much like Martinsville. Sonoma becomes a demolition derby at the end. If you can get a long run to get to the end of it, it makes it nice," said Stewart, who comes into the race 35th in points, 45 markers out of 30th.
"If you get a restart with 10 laps (to go) or less, it is an absolute demolition derby," said Stewart. "There are a lot of places two cars don't fit very well, side-by-side, and somebody always gets the short end of the stick. There are a lot of areas where guys can dive down there and take your line away and put guys in a bad spot. That always seems to bite somebody."
And just like at short tracks, the hard racing makes for hot tempers.
"There are a lot of drivers who have their feelings hurt and are upset when they leave there," said Stewart. "I have been in that situation a lt of times."
Stewart has one more reason to feel confident: His comfort level with first-year crew chief Mike Bugarewicz improves with each passing race.
"We just keep communicating better and getting better as a team every week," said Bugarewicz, who served the last three years as the lead engineer on SHR's No. 4 Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick.
"We are making the gains needed to go forward to win," said Bugarewicz. "You can never have enough communication. Each week that we are getting better, he's happier, he's more confident and I'm more confident, and that continues to build."
Whether it builds fast enough and far enough to get Stewart in the Chase remains one of the biggest storylines of the NASCAR season.