This Chase could use more of Tony Stewart, but it might get less
I've spent the morning at the office trying to figure out why this year's edition of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hasn't had more buzz and I can only come up with one reason: Not enough noise out of Tony Stewart.
Stewart roared into the Chase like the Old Tony, aggressive, outspoken and willing to mix it up with anyone who got in his way. Instead of sponsor logos, he should have had "DGAF: Not one to give," embroidered on the front of his Stewart-Haas Racing polo shirts.
Go back just a couple of weeks to the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season at Richmond, when Stewart got into it with friend and former teammate Ryan Newman.
After contact between the two, Stewart stuffed Newman into the wall at Richmond, eliciting a sharply worded response from Newman, who had several pointed and derogatory things to say about Stewart.
According to Stewart, though, Newman ran into him three times first. "I'm alright with getting run into once or twice," said Stewart. "But the third time is a charm, and that's when I had enough of it and that's when I run him down the backstretch. And I wrecked myself doing it. It wasn't like I wrecked him and didn't wreck myself."
As for Newman's comments, Stewart added, "I'm not really sure I'm going to lose a lot of sleep over his opinion tonight."
That was classic Old Tony, the vintage, don't-give-a-damn attitude from way back. For whatever you might thing of Stewart, over the years, he's never been shy about admitting what he did on the track.
Five days later at the Chase Media Day in Chicago, Stewart insisted he had moved past the conflict with Newman and lectured reporters for making too big a deal of it.
"I hope you guys are creative enough to get by this and actually pay attention to what's going to happen the next 10 weeks," Stewart said. "I mean, if you think that's going to be a storyline for 10 weeks, then you're going to miss a lot because you're going to be wasting your time on something that's not even relevant."
That, too, was vintage Tony.
In this, his final season of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it looked as if Stewart might make the kind of heroic title run he did five years ago. In that season, Stewart was winless with only three top-five finishes in 26 starts in the Cup regular season, but made an incredible run at the end of the year, winning five of the last 10 races to win his third title.
But while his off-track persona seems to have come full circle this year, so far, Stewart's Chase results have been dismal -- 16th at Chicagoland and 23rd at New Hampshire.
And heading into the first elimination race of the Chase, Stewart is ranked 15th of 16 drivers, 11 points out of 12th place. To advance to Round 2 of the Chase, Stewart will either need to win at Dover International Speedway on Sunday or post a top five and hope a couple of drivers ahead of him have serious problems.
Given that Stewart hasn't finished better than 16th in the last six races, that could be a tall order.
But if he can do it, it would give the Chase a much-needed shot of adrenaline. And his competitors know he's still dangerous.
"He's always been feisty," six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said of Stewart. "There's been more speed in his car, which has been good to see. That's led to some more feistiness, I guess."
When you're dealing with Stewart, Johnson said, it's never over until it's over.
"He can do it," Johnson said when asked if Stewart can mount another title run. "We watched him win half the races in one Chase and become the champion. After that I learned not to count him out."