Stewart Strong Heading to Michigan

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart is currently eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. (Photo: Getty Images)

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Tony Stewart hopes to advance one position from his second-place June Michigan finish in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.

The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion followed Dale Earnhardt Jr. across the finish line at the first Sprint Cup Series visit of the year to MIS two months ago and plans to improve on that effort Sunday.

Stewart says the first race on the track’s new pavement turned out to be fine, despite some early concerns that included Goodyear changing left-side tires the night before the race.

“Once it cleaned off, it seemed like the track got to be pretty good,” said Stewart. “It was still a relatively one-groove track, but it got better as the weekend went on. Hopefully, the racetrack will continue on that path and continue to widen out. It was a lot racier than I thought it would be, right off the bat, so I’m anticipating it’s going to be even better when we get back on it this weekend.”

Speeds are expected to top the 200-mph mark once again during this weekend’s qualifying and race, but Stewart is not concerned about safety or any other issues with the increased lap times.

“I don’t think so,” Stewart said. “The safety of these cars has come a long way, and racetrack safety, too, with the soft walls. I don’t think you’re ever really concerned about it until something bad happens. But I’ve been to racetracks, and I’ve seen crashes at 60 mph that hurt people a lot worse than 160 mph.

“I feel pretty confident with the safety package that we have, with both the racetrack side and with what NASCAR has done with the cars.”

With four races left in the regular season, Stewart’s three wins would put him near the top of the standings when the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16.

Although he’s currently eighth in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, Stewart is comfortable about his Chase chances heading into the final quartet of races, especially with the three wins he possesses in his pocket.

“Well, you feel better knowing you have three wins,” he said. “But the thing is, you don’t really think from that standpoint. You always go in there every weekend with the intention that you’re going to win the race. You’re focusing on what you’ve got to do to keep your program good so when you get in the Chase, you can perform in the Chase.

“But, for right now, it’s just kind of the same thing we always talk about every year at this time. We’re taking it one week at a time and you’re just trying to make sure that every track you’re going to, you’re getting 100 percent out of what your package is that weekend.”

However, Stewart believes there is still room for improvement. While his trio of wins is impressive, eliminating the ups and downs that have punctuated this year’s campaign will be necessary once the playoffs roll around.

“We’re still trying to find some consistency,” Stewart said. “We’ve had some great runs and then some not-so-great runs. Lately though, we’ve been running pretty competitively. Even at Kentucky (finished 32nd) and last week at Watkins Glen (finished 19th), we were fast. We never really got to show it at Kentucky because we had ignition trouble. We were 30-some odd laps down but running some of the fastest laps of the race. And at Watkins Glen, we had a top-five car but I made a mistake and spun and we ended up 19th.

“We can be better, but I also know we’re getting better, too.”

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