Column: Business seems to be picking up for Stewart

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, August 4, 2007

By Staff
Business is picking up quickly with Tony Stewart and the Home Depot team. It seems that Smoke always wins in bunches and after going 18 races deep into the season, he has reeled off two in a row, winning at Chicago and last weekend at Indy. In the process, he has moved to fifth in the standings. After not being eligible for the chase last season, Stewart was my pre-season pick to race with an attitude and win the 2008 championship.
I feel pretty safe with the prediction that he would race with an attitude, just ask Kevin Harvick, and I am feeling better about the call for the championship. Even though Jeff Gordon is far and away the points leader right now, it won't mean a hill of beans after the Richmond race in early September.
With the new format giving drivers a 10-point bonus for each win leading up to the first race of the chase, I would not be surprised if Stewart matched Gordon's four wins. Considering the remaining races before the chase – Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, California, and Richmond – Stewart could start the chase on even footing with Gordon. If that happens, I put my money on Stewart.
Other drivers contending for the chase are not performing as well. Dale Earnhardt Jr has posted two DNFs in a row after losing the engine of a strong car at Indy. He is teetering in the last position to become chase eligible, only 13 points ahead of Kurt Busch in 13th position. Junior cannot afford any bad runs over the next six races or he will be on the outside looking in. This being his swan song from DEI, that is something that he definitely wants to avoid.
Kurt Busch is surging. In the last five races, since Michigan, Busch has gained three spots in the standings and 131 on 12th place. Like Stewart, Busch has been strong at the six tracks remaining before the chase begins.
It seems that the 12th position of the chase field is the only spot in question. Obviously, much can happen, but the top 11 drivers have to feel good about their chances. Martin Truex Jr, in 11th position, is 118 points ahead of Junior in 12th. By finishing races and being smart, Truex will make the show.
The Busch series continues its international expansion this week by traveling to Montreal. The good ole boys invade the North at the Circuit Gilles Villenueve road course track in Montreal. The track is 2.7 miles with 14 turns. Seven Cup regulars will pull the double this weekend and race in both Montreal and Pocono. Making the 400 mile trip between Montreal and Long Pond should be much easier than the 1300 mile jaunt from Sonoma to Milwaukee, maybe Denny Hamlin picked the wrong weekend to compete in the non-companion races in different cities.
The second most boring race of the season is Sunday at Pocono. The most boring race is the first Pocono race in June. Speaking of Mr. Hamlin, he swept the Pocono races last season and is the favorite this weekend. The weird oval at Pocono is very similar to Indy, so most drivers are bringing the same cars from last week. My pick to win Sunday is, get ready, Juan Pablo Montoya.