Brickyard winners to fight it out in Texas
Sunday, November 06, 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas – With just three races left in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart and 2003 Brickyard 400 champion Kevin Harvick are in great position to fight it out for the 2012 Sprint Cup title heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stewart is second in the standings, just eight points behind leader Carl Edwards while Harvick is third, 21 points out of the lead.
But three-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson still isn’t giving up his hopes to score a sixth-straight NASCAR Cup title even though he is sixth in the standings, 43 points out with three to go.
The fourth former Indianapolis Motor Speedway winner – four-time Brickyard 400 champion Jeff Gordon – is 10th in the standings but at 76 points out is out of reasonable contention for the championship.
After winning last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway for his third win in the first seven Chase races Stewart put the pressure on Edwards by saying, “He better be worried the next three weeks because I’m coming after him.”
Although Stewart contends he meant no disrespect to Edwards he continues to back what he said a week ago.
“I just stated a fact that we’re ready for this,” Stewart said. “We’re ready for these three weeks. After a race like we had last Sunday, I’m ready to go for these weeks. If anybody counts us out they’re making a mistake.
“Obviously going into Martinsville being fourth in the points we felt good that we were still in the hunt like we were. I think after the way we ran last Sunday and the way that we were more so not so much how we ran but how we rebounded from a really slow start of the day and were able to overcome it and have a dramatic finish like that at the end. I mean that’s the stuff that puts you in that position at the end and you have that with three weeks to go you’ve got something going on.”
At 40 years old the driver from Columbus, Indiana has the experience to become a three-time Cup champion. He’s just kicked his confidence level up a notch.
“The feeling hasn’t changed,” Stewart said of the challenge he made after winning last Sunday. “It wasn’t the adrenaline that was saying that. I’ve been racing 31 years and we’ve been a part of a lot of championship battles and I know what that feeling is when you feel that stuff is going right and that you’ve got that shot again. Like I said he’s making a mistake if he’s counting us out and if he thinks it’s just a mind game deal I really don’t care what he does. I’m going to control my destiny and my car, I don’t care what he does with his car. I’m going to take care of business with ours.
“Like I said these are three tracks that I like. I feel like we run really well here, Texas is one I really look forward to coming back to. Phoenix we were really good at the test and Homestead is a track that I like. We haven’t won there since they redid it but I like the style that we have to race there and I like where we have to run on the race track. So its three tracks that I like and I feel like we can control our destiny. If we were more points out and we couldn’t gain them by winning the race and him running second then I would feel like it’s his to lose but we can still go up there and take it from him. We don’t have to worry about what he does all we have to do is control our destiny and we can still win this thing.”
While Stewart enters the weekend with confidence Harvick arrived at Texas with a bit of concern. He is in a precarious position of having to chip away at Edwards on Sunday because he can’t afford to have the points deficit get any bigger heading to Phoenix next week.
“I think it’s a pivotal weekend for us,” Harvick said. “We virtually have to come out of here at least running ahead of the No. 99 (Carl Edwards). So obviously this is a big weekend for us and with the position the Talladega race put us in, I think this is the one.
“For us, we had a bad day at Talladega. You just know that going in there. There’s really nothing you can do about it. I felt more uncomfortable in the back of the pack racing than I did in the front. We thought the front was a better spot for us to be in and if you’re going to win those races you have to run in the front. Very seldom do you see what the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) did to come from the back and just kind of sneak in there and win the race.
You’ve got to know what your car is doing and you’ve got to have the patience and things to be able to do that. We were just in the wrong spot. We’re controlling the things that we can control and we’ve done a fairly good job at that. It hasn’t been perfect by any means but it’s all you can do.”
Three-time Brickyard 400 winner Johnson finds himself in a unique position of assessing the chances of other drivers to contend for the title at a time of the season where he is usually the driver being chased.
“Tony (Stewart) has won his two (championships), I think that there is a bit of comfort that I have experienced over the years racing for my third and after you win one, a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders,” Johnson explained. “Carl (Edwards) has won championships in other forms and you are going to have to pull on all your experience to do your job to win at this level.
“I don’t want to advise them, I would like them both to let myself and others back into this, I don’t necessarily have advice, but I am going to be watching with excitement and certainly hoping that my Hendrick kind of teammate in a way (Stewart) if you will has some great success here these next few weeks.”
It appears Johnson’s streak of Cup titles is coming to an end at five straight but Johnson vowed he is going to go down swinging.
“We have a lot of pressure on ourselves and yes we are going to be disappointed if we are not the champion,” he said. “But I look at this year and where we were at different points in the year and the new faces that we have going over the wall and the progress that they have all made, the progress we have made as a company with the speed in our cars from the start of the year until now, it has been a tougher year for us from a performance stand point than we expected to have, and I think we are understanding our equipment better now and 2012 will be a good year. Just like any competitor, if it is not your year this year, you learn from the low spots, you praise your crew for the high spots and you move on.
“I don’t want to see the streak end, nor does my team, but if it does, it does and we have to learn from it and go on.”
When it comes to championship success Gordon is one of NASCAR’s all-time best with four titles. But the inaugural Brickyard 400 champion in 1994 firmly believes it will be eons before another driver in NASCAR equals Jonson’s accomplishment of five-straight championships.
“I think you are seeing history in the making right here and I don’t think you are going to see that happen for a very long time,” Gordon said. “I have always said, and people ask this all the time, going back to the number of wins and the dominance we had in the mid to late 90’s, people said will you see that kind of dominance again, it is certainly possible and every once in a while, a rare combination comes together but they made it look easy and it is not that easy. That is why it will be a long time before we see it again.”