For much of '04 that bed wasn't too comfortable, because Stewart's overzealousness on the track angered about half the garage. ("I'd like to have 10 minutes with Tony Stewart and handle [him] myself," owner Ray Evernham told reporters on July 11.)
Yet it wasn't Stewart's bullish behavior that caused him to finish a disappointing sixth in the standings. His big problem was that his Home Depot Chevy wasn't as consistently fast as the Chase leaders, which many believe is a reflection of a bigger problem at Joe Gibbs Racing. "They seem to be slipping," says three-time Cup champion and Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip. "That's why 2005 will be a key year for Tony Stewart."
"I know what it takes to win a championship," says Stewart, "and I'm 100 percent confident that I'll get back to that level."
Will it be in 2005? Not likely.
RUNS WELL AT: Watkins Glen. Stewart's open-wheel background has helped him win two of the last three races.
TROUBLE SPOTS: Stewart has failed to finish higher than 19th in his last four starts at stamina-sapping Bristol.
PROJECTION: The 2002 champion will continue to run near the front, but problems at Joe Gibbs Racing will prevent him from reaching the top spot this year.
When Stewart has a day off from racing, he likes to help the crew building a 10acre fish pond on his farm in Indiana.
5 Kurt BUSCH