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Ready to run: Defending champion Stewart, crew in Chase mode

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In Tony Stewart’s first six years on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, he finished no worse than 11th in 12 races at Dover, Del., and swept the track’s two races in 2000.

But the Columbus native has struggled of late at Dover, finishing 21st, 29th, 25th and 25th in his past four races there. He’ll try to reverse that trend when he competes in the AAA 400 at 1 p.m. Sunday.

“Dover has been the track where we’ve struggled the most, so I think that’s the one we have to look at and say, ‘This is one that we have to figure out and do better if we’re going to have a shot at this,’” Stewart said in a news release. “We have to survive there.”

The defending champion has finished sixth and seventh in his first two Chase races this season and sits fourth in the point standings with eight races remaining. He is 10 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

“The philosophy of how to win races and championships doesn’t change from week to week,” Stewart said. “You do the same thing. It starts on Friday, and you take it one day at a time.”

Stewart didn’t feel like he was in good position for this past year’s championship after finishing 25th in the September race at Dover.

“I don’t even know if last year at this point if we felt like we had a great thing going on,” Stewart said. “We had had so much bad luck leading into the Chase that one race win at Chicago didn’t really make us feel like we had just all of a sudden turned everything around. Definitely after Loudon it felt better; but then we went to the third race in the Chase at Dover, and we were back to reality.

“So, I think it’s a scenario where you go back and you’re realistic about it,” he said. “You’ve got to take it one week at a time. You know that 65 percent of the things that go on during the race are out of your control, so you just try to control the 35 percent that you can control and take it from there.”

With things amplified in the Chase, Stewart and his crew are in Chase mode.

“I think there is a Chase mode, but I don’t think it’s necessarily any different than what you normally do,” Stewart said. “You just are taking that extra little time, and those guys, when they’re going through their checklists, are checking things twice sometimes in some categories to where they probably don’t need to, but it’s not a bad idea.

“You realize that if something goes wrong and something happens what the consequences are, and how much one bad race means now versus the first 26 weeks of the year,” he said. “You know you’re trying to do as much as you can to keep a bad day from happening.”

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