With Tony Stewart, it is never enough. The irascible Nextel Cup driver has won 19 races in his career, a season title in 2002, and almost $35 million in prize money, but the fire still rages like he's a shade-tree mechanic just trying to make enough money to buy his next carburetor.
Stewart races, he spits, he curses, and then he races some more. With Stewart, the push to the front is a never-ending exercise.
Six races into the 2005 schedule, Stewart is in fifth place in the points chase, 203 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, and grinding his teeth over the recent twists of fate that have kept him out of victory lane.
Stewart was his good ole disgruntled self after finishing 26th at Martinsville last weekend. It was Jeff Gordon who won the race, but Stewart led the most laps - 247 - until a broken front wheel forced him to limp home well back in the pack.
"That was the best car we've ever had at Martinsville," Stewart lamented.
"We can't change it now. It's all over with. But what won't change is that we had a great car, the best car out there, and everybody knows it."
Stewart's crew allowed him to leave a pit stop with loose lug nuts, and it wasn't long before he was out of the picture. Despite the bad break, he has tried to stay upbeat, knowing there is still a lot of racing on the horizon.
"I told the guys on the radio, and again when I got out of the car, we've got a lot to be proud of," Stewart said. "And when the emotion of the disappointment goes away, we're going to have a lot of things to be happy about and look forward to."
As the circuit moves to Texas Speedway this weekend, Stewart does not put a lot of stock into "bad luck" scenarios, or in lengthy reviews of how he has performed at various tracks in the past.
"For me, it comes down to just feel more than anything," Stewart said. "A driver has to like the feel of his race car and the feel of the track. If one of those things doesn't mesh right, then you're probably not going to be as successful as you want to be."
He will maintain an aggressive posture on the track, despite the growing popularity of a hanging-back-and-playing-it-safe approach that some drivers have used to stay out of trouble until making a push in the latter stages of races.
"I feel like when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it," Stewart said.
In Sunday's Samsung/Radio Shack 500, Stewart does not expect to approach the tricky 1.5-mile speedway like it is a minefield of potential disasters. He thinks Texas presents challenges all its own, but not to the degree that he would have to temper his tempestuous style.
"I've run there in a Busch car, an IRL car and in a Cup car with this Home Depot team," Stewart said, "and I never looked at it as a treacherous racetrack. For some reason, it seemed that the track's transitions were very line-sensitive. The entries and exits to the corners are very tricky, and that's what makes Texas difficult. I don't think it's treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error."
Stewart said he expects there to be a lot more long-term strategy involved in Nextel Cup racing, now that everyone has had a season to get used to the new format, and the importance of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup over the final 10 races of the year.
"By knowing that all you have to do is get yourself in the top 10 by the 27th race of the season, it gives us the flexibility to try new things," Stewart said. "Even now, if something that we try this weekend at Texas doesn't work, we still have 19 races to get caught up. That's an entire season in some racing series.
"It takes a little pressure off at the beginning of the season as far as looking at the points sheet. We can just concentrate on where we're at and what we need to do to make ourselves better so that we're ready to go for that last third of the season.
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