Car number: 20 • Manufacturer: Chevy • Sponsor: Home Depot
Owner: Joe Gibbs
• Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
• Crew Chief: Greg Zipadelli
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
Final Points Standing
After First 26 Races
Lead Lap Finishes
It is impossible to predict how the Car of Tomorrow will affect the outcome of the season. Therefore, we've bought stock in who we believe is the best all-around driver on the circuit.
Yes, Tony Stewart missed the Chase last season when a mid-summer slump derailed his hopes of defending his Nextel Cup crown. But the slump can be attributed as much to injuries (sustained after two monster hits at Lowe's) as to his ability in a racecar. That same slump just may prove to be the catalyst that drives him in his quest for a third Cup title.
Reflect for a moment on his dominating performance in 2005 and his five top 5s - including three wins - during last season's Chase. Throw in the fact that he and crew chief Greg Zipadelli are not only the leaders of a championship-tested crew but that they feel they have something to prove after last year's collapse, and the picture becomes clear.
In his eight years on the circuit, Stewart has averaged just over 3.65 wins per season. That is a conservative estimate as far as 2007 goes. While he has been an outspoken critic of the new cars, Stewart will get the hang of them quickly. And, hey, they're still running 22 events in the old skin.
Also of importance is his performance on each style of track that the circuit runs (upper left). In the last two seasons he has recorded a win or a runner-up finish on a flat, intermediate, plate, road and short track. No one else can claim that.
Versatility will be key when the COT is unleashed. A driver will be forced to adapt to a totally new car, and Stewart's diverse background, be it a winged sprint-car on the dirt at Eldora, an open-wheeled rocket at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or a bulking stock car on the high banks of Bristol, will pay off in spades.
2006 Recap If there is one chink in the Tony Stewart armor it is that he loses his cool in the heat of competition. While he was able to drive away from his messes unscathed at Daytona and Pocono - he netted top 5s in each of those events - the New Hampshire aggression foiled his title hopes.
While leading early in the event, he refused to let Ryan Newman - two laps down and on fresher tires - pass him for a lap back. The result was a spin that eliminated both drivers from contention for the win. Even more damaging were the roughly 100 points Stewart sacrificed.
A rough weekend at Lowe's that resulted in a broken collarbone hampered his title bid as well. Driving hurt for the ensuing eight races, Stewart averaged a 26th-place finish. The big Daytona win in July helped ease some of his pain, but his ranking slipped from fourth in the driver standings to 11th.
Three wins in the season's final eight races were reason to smile. A point had been made. But it was too little, too late for the Rushville Rocket.
• The Good: A statement was made during the Chase. With three convincing wins and two additional top 5 runs, the Home Depot team proved the best team does not always win it all.
• The Bad: Tony Stewart deliberately drove Matt Kenseth off the track at Daytona, resulting in a spin in front of the field. What exactly was he thinking?
• The Ugly: Hands down, it was racing Ryan Newman at New Hampshire. As mentioned before, that one race might have cost the Home Depot team the championship.