A year ago this week, Tony Stewart went into the final Chase event at Homestead, Fla., with a chance to win his third NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
The Columbus native outdueled Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 to tie Edwards atop the point standings. With five wins to Edwards’ one, Stewart won the tiebreaker and claimed the title.
This year, heading into Sunday’s series finale at Homestead, the stakes aren’t as big for Stewart. Mathematically eliminated from defending his crown, he is in ninth place and can finish anywhere from third to 11th.
“We’re just going out there to try and win the race,” Stewart said in a news release. “That’s all we can do. We’re not in a championship battle, but we’re still in a battle for points. We still have to go out and do the best we can to get as many points as we can.”
Leader Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers alive in the title chase. Stewart said it’s difficult when not in a championship battle to keep focus through the end of the season.
“Yeah, because all everybody wants to do is talk about the guys that are in it, and all we want to do is worry about the stuff that we’re doing that didn’t get us in it and trying to make our cars better,” Stewart said. “That is the stuff we’re trying to work on and to concentrate on our program and not worry about what everybody else is doing. And it’s hard.
“They’re still trying to fight for this year, but were already fighting for next year,” he said.
Stewart will make his 500th career start Sunday, becoming the 32nd driver to reach that mark. But it’s a milestone that had gone unnoticed to him.
“I’ll give you the reality of this deal — I didn’t even know it until somebody told me,” Stewart said. “And I was like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’ But then it was back to business. It’s a milestone, but it’s not as big when you compare it to some of the other drivers and see how many starts they have in their career. When you compare it to Richard Petty (1,184 starts) or Ricky Rudd (906 starts) or Mark Martin (853 starts), 500 isn’t a lot.”