Stewart too cool for comfort
SI.com's Mark Beech offers the most intriguing news, notes and analysis fans need to know heading into each week's race.
How odd is it that Tony Stewart seems to be the most even-tempered driver in the garage at Joe Gibbs Racing? Compared to teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, both of whom have dented their fair share of fenders and feelings so far this season, the volatile two-time Cup champion (and the man I like to refer to as Mr. Furious) has been downright placid. And that's why I'm thinking that there's just no way it can last.
Stewart, who's in eighth place in the points standings heading into this weekend's race at Dover, has yet to win in 2008, and he has to be getting frustrated. On Sunday at Charlotte, he was running all alone out front with just two laps to go before blowing a right front tire and giving up both the lead and the victory to Kasey Kahne (Stewart eventually finished 18th). He's got four top-five and six top-10 finishes this year, but is arguably only the second best driver on his own team right now. Busch, who until he joined JGR during the offseason had always been something of a thorn in Stewart's side, currently leads the Sprint Cup standings and has already won three races-as many as Stewart won all of last year. Hamlin has won once. I'm slightly surprised that Stewart has sort of been the forgotten man in NASCAR's ongoing what's-the-matter-with-Jeff-Gordon-and-Jimmie-Johnson discussion.
And let's be clear, Stewart doesn't like playing second banana to anybody. This is a man who hates to feel like he isn't, as it were, in the driver's seat. Behind all of his bluster and truculence on race day is an intense desire to maintain control. Is it any wonder that he has already begun talking about leaving JGR and forming his own team?
But here's why I think a down Tony Stewart is a dangerous Tony Stewart: nobody in the sport drives better when he's angry. For evidence, look no further than last summer, when he tangled with Hamlin at Daytona and was forced to sit through a lecture from team owner Gibbs. Stewart responded by going out the next week and winning at Chicago, then winning again at Indy. Two races later, he won at Watkins Glen. If you need further convincing, remember that Stewart always heats up with the weather. In his whole career, he's only won two races before May 5.
By my estimations, we should soon be entering Tony Time. Busch and Hamlin better beware.
How to drive
Dover International Speedway
Jimmie Johnson on racing at the Monster Mile: "Dover's a different track. You do have the high speeds but it's more of a short track, and it has a unique shape, the way you fly into the corner and then turn around and jump back out is much different. So hopefully everything carries over. But it's a track I really enjoying running at -- it's one of my favorites. And the fact that this tire and this car is allowing us to move around, I think we'll have good racing from top to bottom at Dover, which is kind of unusual. But I think this car will provide that there."
9: Number of different winners at Dover in the last nine races.
16: Current position in the point standings for 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth.
3: Number of top-10 finishes for Matt Kenseth in his last four races at Dover, including a win in '06.
0: Number of times Kenseth has failed to qualify for the Chase since its inception in '04
June 4, 1995: Kyle Petty leads a race-high 271 laps en route to victory. It is so far his last win in a Cup race.