Although the NASCAR season will pass the halfway stage when the drivers take the chequered flag at Daytona this weekend, for most drivers there are only eight more races left if they want to make The Chase and get a shot at winning the Championship. It’s the time of season where after every race it is possible to add another name to the list of drivers who’s season is over.
The biggest name so far to be added to that list is Denny Hamlin who is over 100 hundred points away from 20th and without a win to his name. I admit that it is still theoretically possible for him to make it but we all know that in reality in his season is over. Up until the NASCAR circus arrived in Dover for Stewart Haas Racing the season wasn’t going so well and for their big star Tony Stewart The Chase was looking along way away.
It is no secret that Stewart’s season tends to bloom in the summer races but there must have still been a slight sense of worry in the 14 camp as since The Chase was introduced Stewart has never found himself as far down as 20th at that time of the season. It wasn’t even a case that he had a run of bad luck, like Jeff Gordon did in 2012, the car just never seemed to have the pace of the other big names and an average finish pre-Dover of 19.9th just summed up what an awful season it had been so far.
The 2013 season saw SHR enter a new era as Danica Patrick became their third full-time Cup driver and the team personal was rearranged with many of Ryan Newman’s team heading over to the 10 car, and whilst the changes had no direct influence on Stewart’s team as team boss any issues, sponsorship being one, would of course weigh heavily on his mind, potentially leading to him taking his eye off the ball in regards to his own team. Coming into the season hopes were high for a good season, Crew Chief Steve Addington was entering his second year with the 14 team and despite a lull in The Chase which Stewart entered in 3rd but ultimately finished 9th, the 2012 season has been a good one on which to build for an even more successful 2013.
Then came Dover, and a result that appears to given his flagging season a boost. It wasn’t a dominant win, far from it in fact, passing leader Juan Pablo Montoya with three laps to go to lead for the first time in the race. But it was enough to give him the all important win and not just important from a points of view but important in the sense that he now had a shot at making The Chase via a wildcard. With drivers in the top 10 scooping up the wins Stewart was suddenly in a very strong position provided he could stay in the top 20. The win seemed to give the whole team a boost in confidence suddenly their results started to pick up, a fourth place at Pocono was followed the following week with a fifth place at Michigan and despite a couple of iffy results in the last to races his average finish has shot up to 11.6.
There have been plenty of drivers that have made it into The Chase with only one victory and as the standings currently sit there is only one other driver in a potential wildcard spot with a win and that’s Kasey Kahne (David Ragan of course picked up a win but he is currently in 29th place). Kahne is only one point off 10th place so there is every chance that he will make The Chase outright which would guarantee Stewart a wildcard.
Sure with eight races still to go anything can happen and it would be a huge surprise if nobody outside the top 10 picked up a win, but having that all important win takes some of the pressure off. Coupled with the fact that the next few races usually see Stewart finish strongly mean that the season should only get better. But whether he can use that momentum to mount a serious title challenge remains to be seen, after all the pressure of being the boss will always be there.