Stewart has one more crack to reach Chase

Tony Stewart is down to one final shot.

The Columbus native’s last chance to win a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be tonight at Richmond (Virginia) International Raceway. Stewart, who is winless this season, needs a victory to win a spot in the 16-team Chase, which begins next week.

The concept isn’t unprecedented for Stewart. Four years ago, he was winless going into Richmond and had not secured a spot in the Chase. But he ran well enough to win a spot in the Chase via his point standings.

The rest is history. Stewart won five of the 10 races in the Chase and captured his third Sprint Cup championship.

“I think for the most part it’s just really hard to win,” Stewart said in a news release. “You have to have everything go your way, and then to have that happen on any given day, it’s not easy. We’ve struggled this year, but knowing how hard it is to win these races, it makes me appreciate that I’ve been able to do that and do it more than just once or twice in my career.”

Stewart has three Sprint Cup wins at Richmond, including his first in 1999. He also has 11 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s with a total of 950 laps led in 32 career Sprint Cup stars there. Stewart also won NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Richmond in 2002 and 2003 and a Late Model victory in 2012.

“As much as you’re racing everybody else, you have to race the racetrack,” Stewart said. “It just seems like a place where if you can get the balance right it makes it an extremely fun day. With the two ends of the track being different like they are, it seems like you’re always fighting something, but that’s what always makes the racing good, too. You never really get anybody who gets their car perfect. Even the guy that gets the lead still isn’t happy with his car. So, it’s really trying to find that balance and trying to figure out how to balance both ends of the track together.”

Stewart has said the ¾-mile oval is his favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit.

“It’s the perfect-sized track for a Cup race,” Stewart said. “The other short tracks we run — Bristol and Martinsville — they’re cool in their own right, but there’s a lot of congestion at those two tracks. But at Richmond, it just seems like that extra quarter-mile, and that three-quarter-mile shape, and how wide the groove gets there, allows for good racing. It seems like we have to race ourselves and race the racetrack versus racing each other a lot of times.

“You do have to race each other, obviously, but there are a lot of times during the race when you have the flexibility to move around on the racetrack and try to find a spot your car likes better than somewhere else,” he said. “A lot of times on a short track you don’t have the flexibility. You’re more narrowed down with what groove you’re going to be in. It is literally the favorite track of mine on the circuit.”