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Woody: Stewart Is Top Driver, Top Story Right Now

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 1 2009
Tony Stewart was second to take the checkered flag at Dover on Sunday, but he is first in points today. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Tony Stewart was second to take the checkered flag at Dover on Sunday, but he is first in points today. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A lot of us thought Tony Stewart was making a big mistake when he weaned himself from Joe Gibbs and threw away the security blanket in which he’d wrapped himself for his entire NASCAR career.

We weren’t convinced he had made a wise career move by starting his own team (well, co-owning his own team).

History holds that being an owner/driver is too much for one man, especially in these demanding days.

History, schmistory.

Stewart sailed home in second place Sunday at Dover, and second equaled first for Tony in the Sprint Cup standings.

The sun came up this morning with Tony on top.

Granted, we’re only at the midway point in the chase for the Chase – 13 races into the 26-race “regular season” that determines which dandy dozen will duke it out the final 10 races for the title.

But right now nobody has a better view than Stewart. There’s no doubt that he has secured a spot in the Chase – he’s not going to get knocked down 13 spots in 13 races – and when crunch times arrives, who’s going to bet against him?

Not me.

Stewart has clawed his way to the top without winning a race. In other words, he hasn’t even put his best foot forward. He’s No. 1, with his best yet to come.

Stewart’s amazing surge is clearly the top story – at least the top positive story at this juncture of the season. Mark Martin’s resurgence after semi-retirement would be a close happy-story second, but still second.

Even before Tony’s assent, I had given him credit for a new, improved personality. Often in years past I’d been a harsh critic of Stewart, who seemed unable/unwilling to put a lid on his boorish behavior.

Last season saw marked improvement and this year he has practically been a candidate for Mr. Congeniality. Oh, there have been a few minor rifts and spats, but nothing serious. It seems that the leopard, indeed, has changed his spots.

But there’s a long, hot summer ahead. A lot of bumps and grinds. The pressure of being on top.

And speaking of pressure; imagine if Stewart should enter the Chase without a victory. He could become NASCAR’s first winless champion. Imagine the asterisk. I don’t think Tony likes asterisks beside his name.

But all that lies ahead – the pressures, the potential pitfalls, the challenges, the history that could be made.

We don’t know what will happen, but there’s one sure bet: Tony will make it a tantalizing ride.

That’s one thing about him that hasn’t changed.

- Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 1 2009
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