Raceday: Phoenix

AVONDALE, Az. - He's the hottest driver in the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" portion of the season, but Tony Stewart has no chance to repeat his championship of a year ago.

And Stewart is fine with it.

Although he’s won three times in the eight “Chase” races, Stewart understands that he failed to qualify for the championship race and that’s the way the system works. It doesn’t matter to him that he’s accumulated the most points of any driver in the “Chase.”

"We aren't in the Chase, so it doesn't matter, does it,?" Stewart said. "There's a lot of pressure on those guys. Sometimes it gets you off your game a little bit. Sometimes, it forces you to be a little more conservative and sometimes, because of the pressure, you make mistakes. Those guys are in a totally different situation than we are. It's easier for us to just go out and try to win races."

Stewart has done exactly that, picking up victories at Kansas, Atlanta and Texas during the “Chase,” to go along with his regular season wins at Daytona and Martinsville.

With the points pressure off, Stewart and his team look like they’re just having fun.

"The nice thing is you don't have to worry about points,"Stewart said. " just takes the pressure off of us and lets us go back to doing what we do best, and that's just going out and trying to win races."

But still Stewart scoffs at the notion that the format should be tweaked and a "wild card" driver added to the championship field, based on number of victories or the previous year’s champion being allowed in.

"Once Richmond was over, we weren't in The Chase...We just missed The Chase," he said. “The guys racing for the championship are racing for the championship. Those guys are in a totally different situation than we are, because we are in a position to win races."

So with no shot to win another NEXTEL Cup title, Stewart does have one goal to aim for – running the table to close out the season with four straight wins. After victories in Atlanta and Texas, he’ll try for his third in a row Sunday in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at PIR.

"It's a very good goal to shoot for right now, win these last two races and be able to say we've won the last four races of the Chase," Stewart said.

"It would be a saving grace to the season," added Stewart.

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