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Is the rain going to break at Pocono Sunday....and will Tony Stewart do well from his last-place starting spot?

  Ryan Newman (R), Tony Stewart's teammate, is due to win, and this could be the place...if NASCAR can beat the rain (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Tony Stewart, with a 693-point lead over the guy in 13th in the Sprint Cup standings going into Sunday's Pennsylvania 500, has all but locked up a spot in the NASCAR championship chase.
    All the tour leader has to do is finish at least 30th in these next six races.
    Of course, with Saturday's crash during practice for Sunday's 500, Stewart will have to start 43rd. NASCAR, at 2 p.m. Sunday, said it was looking for a 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. green flag, though that looks optimistic.
   While Stewart and the rest of the field wait out Sunday's rain, and possible 'weepers,' water seeping up through cracks in the asphalt, Stewart has had time to concentrate on some other things -- like promoting his upcoming Eldora Speedway HBO special September 9th , a dirt-track all-star race with some of NASCAR's finest, rescheduled from June, when it was rained out.
   So, Tony, do you have a car for Danica Patrick for that race?
   Earlier this month he'd said he would be willing to invite the Indy-car star to his charity all-star event.
   And just last week Patrick even dropped by Stewart's NASCAR shop.
   And a Gillette spokeswoman (the Proctor and Gamble division is helping sponsor the Eldora event, through its 'NASCAR Young Guns' marketing promotion) agreed there would be interesting promotional aspects to having Patrick in that race.
   However Stewart just blew off the Patrick-Eldora option.
   The HBO part of Stewart's Eldora special was iffy for September, until Gillette came up with some sponsorship and marketing.
   But then Stewart has been coming up golden just about every weekend in this his first season as a NASCAR Cup owner-driver.
   Is he just riding the wave till it falls out from under him?
   Can he ride this wave through the rest of the season….and is he braced for a rash of bad luck somewhere along the line?
   Is he prepared to have to step it all up once the chase starts – that's been Jimmie Johnson's approach to the year's final 10: hitting overdrive.
   Stewart says he just wants to maintain: "You want to keep doing what you are doing.
    "Obviously it is hard to imagine you are going to have everything go exactly your way for 38 weeks.
    "But at Vegas we had a loose wheel and ended up 24th or 26th . We have had days that didn't exactly go right.
    "The good thing is we have had so many days that have gone right.
    "We know there are only a certain number of variables that we can control, and there are a lot of variables we can't.
    "If something happens, we'll cross that bridge, and deal with it the best we can."
    While his two-car team, with Ryan Newman, is just sailing along this season, Stewart says it's just a matter of time before he probably expands to a three-car team.
   "We are definitely open to it, for sure; we are interested for sure," Stewart says.
    "It is a matter of timing --- timing is everything. I don't know that something would happen for next year. I think we are getting close to the stage of the season where it may get too late to have that opportunity to add a third car for next year.
   "But it is something that at least as a company we feel comfortable with and feel like with the right opportunity, that it is definitely possible."
    Stewart, who appears in the running to add sponsor Bass Pro Shops on Newman's cars next season, paired with the Army sponsorship, likes his team's consistency: "This is where we got our first win of the season, but when you look at Chicago -- we ran fourth. And we ran third at Indy last week.
   "The team has been very consistent, and that's something I'm extremely proud of.
    "I would trade in the couple of wins for the consistency right now, with the exception of the 10 bonus points.
    "I don't know how I could ask for any more. I'd love to have five wins like Mark has. But other than that I'm extremely satisfied with what we have done."
    But Stewart is comfortable and confident right now because he's got such a big lead in the standings and doesn't have to worry about making the playoff cut.
   Of course Stewart realizes that: "Once people get comfortable and know they're going to be locked into the chase, everybody kind of relaxes a little bit.
    "That's the calm before the storm…and you know that once those last 10 weeks start you can't afford to have a mistake.
    "We can have a mistake this weekend; we can blow a motor the first lap, I can crash the first lap, and it's not going to hurt us.
    "But if that happens the first week of the chase, obviously the effects are a lot more dramatic."

    Tony Stewart's Saturday at Pocono wasn't very good, and he had to put this car back up on the hauler (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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