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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 'Smoke' monster should be a force in the Chase

Fans of the show “Lost” will recognize the “Smoke Monster” … and NASCAR has their own version as Tony “Smoke” Stewart is coming into full form as the regular season ends and the playoffs will soon begin.

With his win at Atlanta Sunday night, Tony served notice to the competition that he is still a contender for the title, despite not having won a race until this late in the year. It was just a matter of getting it all figured out, and now is Stewart’s time to shine.

He was beaming in Victory Lane, exclaiming with short breath: “God, I’ve never been so happy to win in all my life.” This is because Stewart is used to winning, and the nearly year-long streak without a win was no doubt strange for him to experience, and it was a a given that a pure racer like Stewart would be back at some point soon.

His crew chief, Darian Grubb, said the win is timed perfectly, right before the Chase hits and the most important races of the season begin.

“It's definitely huge for us to be able to get the win right before we go into the Chase. The momentum is a big thing, but it's one of those things we wanted to have all along. It's not like we weren't trying to get to victory lane every week,” Grubb said. “ It was a tough battle. We learned a lot of things in the last few months that have given Tony a lot more comfort in the racetrack anad keep speed in it, as well.”

Stewart echoed this sentiment that the leadup to this win was done little by little as the team learned and got better over the recent races.

“The thing I guess I've been really excited about, especially the last two months, we have been kind of silent every weekend and we are gaining on it. And it's not been in one week increments where we've had a big change and all of the sudden everybody goes, wow, they are starting to figure it out. It's been a lot of little steps in the last ten to 12 races, I would say, that nobody's really noticed it, but we have noticed it internally. It's a much better feeling right now this time of year than it was a year ago.”

Denny going in wrong direction
Now let’s go to the opposite end of the positivity spectrum.
If I had to predict the champion, at this point I would refrain from saying Denny Hamlin … and it has nothing to do with the driver. The Joe Gibbs cars, particularly Hamlin’s cars, seem to have far too many mechanical issues for him to realistically compete for the title. I’m reminded of the time a couple years ago when Kyle Busch was a favorite for the title, but had a mechanical issue in the first Chase race and then nosedived.

Hamlin blew up at Atlanta and dipped in the standings. While the points mean nothing since he’s in the Chase officially and will be up top along with Jimmie Johnson, that team has to be worried that their equipment may prevent Hamlin from making a serious title run.

Bowyer defends ground
Clint Bowyer, the man defending 12th place in the Chase, was pretty thrilled with his night at Atlanta, finishing 6th and basically guaranteeing a Chase spot, barring any crazy scenario unfolding at Richmond that will lose him more than 100 points.

"That is absolutely what we needed. Man, I tell you, it was a hard fought battle. The guys kept digging and kept digging,” Bowyer said. “They kept adjusting on it and never gave it. The guys in the pits, they got us back up there where we needed to be. I am real proud of them. Not what we wanted, but darn sure what we needed.”

Bowyer said he’s glad that he’s not just hanging on, and is instead increasing his points gap over Chase seekers like Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin.
"We are gaining points so that is a good feeling."

Oil politics: Mobil 1 not off limits for Stewart

There are longstanding rumors that Mobil 1 will join Stewart-Haas Racing as a sponsor in 2011, when it leaves Penske Racing (which is getting the Shell sponsorship from RCR.)

Despite a new agreement between Quaker State and Hendrick Motorsports, which is affilitated with SHR, Rick Hendrick said a Mobil 1 deal with Stewart wouldn’t be discouraged.

"The folks that rent or lease motors for us do whatever they want to do. That's their call," Hendrick said at Atlanta this weekend

Edwards on fire
After a terrible start to the year, Carl Edwards is officially on fire.
The Roush team has figured out how to run up front, and he is the main beneficiary, and finished 2nd at Atlanta to prove that to everyone.

"That was fun,” Edwards said after the race.Tony just had such a fast car there at the end, but we're back. We're doing it. We're scoring more points than anybody. We're heading into the chase. I feel like we locked ourselves in. The last couple of months have been great. I'm excited about going to Richmond. I'm real excited about starting the chase.”

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