Having run his final Sprint Cup race in his home state, Tony Stewart can focus more of his energy than ever on making a push for the Cup championship in his final year on the circuit.
With six races left before the 10-race Chase for the Cup gets started at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 18, Stewart is all but assured of being one of the 16 drivers to make the first playoff cut — but he’d still like to maintain the positive momentum he’s picked up during the last month and a half.
His next opportunity comes today in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono. Stewart has had success at the track, winning twice and racking up 23 top-10 finishes in his 35 Sprint Cup starts there.
Pocono isn’t called the “Tricky Triangle” for nothing — each of the track’s three turns offers distinct challenges, and getting a car in condition to handle each of the three well is truly a balancing act.
“That’s the hard part for the crew chiefs,” Stewart said.
“Normally, you can get two of them right, then you make a change to fix the third and you hurt the other two corners. That seems like it is always the challenge — it’s tying all three corners together and getting your car to respond to it.”
That challenge falls to Stewart’s first-year crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz. Though he’s worked NASCAR crews since December of 2005, the 34-year-old is heading up a team for the first time.
It may have taken Bugarewicz and Stewart a little time to gel, particularly with the driver missing the first eight races of the season, but there’s no question that things are running better of late, and Stewart credits Bugarewicz for much of that success.
“For a guy who’s not been the head guy on the pit box for very long, he’s got a lot of savvy about what’s going on there,” Stewart stated. “I feel like things are kind of gelling around us.”
Pocono serves as the de facto home track for Bugarewicz, who grew up in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, and earned a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State.
Bugarewicz, though, is focused on just building confidence in general rather than just a homecoming.
“Every week, we are working to run in the top 10, top five, and racing the guys who are in the Chase who you know are going to be contenders,” he said. “When you show you can do that, it gives you hope.”
Pennsylvania 400, 1:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Starting position: (qualifying Friday evening)
Finished 11th at Brickyard 400
CHASE FOR THE CUP
Last race: 30 points
Season total: 317 points (27th)
Current position on Chase grid: 11th