This may go overlooked on Sunday in the face of the Championship 4 finale to cap off the NASCAR season, but Tony Stewart is in a rare on-track position heading into Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
No, not only out of Chase contention as a driver. But also on the verge of a winless season in Sprint Cup, which would be his first in 16 years, and thus end an active 15-year-in-a-row streak of winning at least one race.
Obviously, circumstances have been different this year given what happened in August.
The return to the track hasn’t been easy, yet it’s racing that gives Stewart his fuel, his rush, his dedication to living.
From a purely statistical standpoint though on-track, it’s hard to argue 2014 has been a season to forget.
Stewart sits 25th in the points after starting 32 of 35 races, with three top-five finishes and seven top-10s, both of which will be career lows (previous lows of five and eight, respectively, occurred last year).
He spent the beginning of the year recovering from his leg injury suffered last year; NBCSN NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton noted at the start of the year on various NASCAR AMERICA shows that Stewart was not physically 100 percent.
The chemistry with new crew chief Chad Johnston hasn’t quite been there, either. It’s been a change after previous years working with others. Granted, a top-five at Martinsville a few weeks ago was a needed finish for him, and a step in the right direction.
Overall it’s unfortunate because Stewart, love him or hate him, has been one of NASCAR’s best drivers for nearly 20 years, including winning three Cup championships.
He’s just been through a two-year period where he’s not been in the news for reasons he’d like to be in the news, and that’s with winning races and contending for championships.
For both his sake and the sport’s sake, it would be great to see that on-form Stewart return in full force.
He still has one shot to end his winless drought. Homestead has traditionally been a good track for “Smoke” – he’s won three times (1999 and 2000 on the flat layout and 2011 on its current configuration) – and he’s clinched all three of his titles there (2002, 2005, 2011).