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So will this season's title run be a crew chief's battle between Chad Knaus and Darian Grubb? And if so, who has the edge?

  Tony Stewart (14) spotted Kyle Busch (18) the lead late, and then passed him on the right, and then passed him on the left...(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Well, now the question looks to be can anyone stop Tony Stewart.
   Stewart, the NASCAR tour points leader since Dover back in the spring, shows no signs of weakening as the race to the playoffs draws to a close, with four Cup events left.
   And some of his toughest rivals, like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, have stumbled lately, and didn't look very impressive here Monday, when Stewart sprinted away from Marcos Ambrose in the final miles of the 220 to win his third tour event of the season and pad his tour points leads – after 22 of the year's 26 regular season events, Stewart is a whopping 260 points ahead of number two.
   Certainly the Hendrick engineering Stewart has at his fingertips is a big reason for his punch this season.
   And general manager Bobby Hutchens deserves some credit too for keeping this two-car operation running so smoothly.
   But let's give crew chief Darian Grubb some credit too….and now ask the question if Grubb feels he himself can dethrone former teammate Chad Knaus as the sport's top man-on-the-pit-box.

   One big issue before the stock car returns here next summer is the outside wall over in the carousel corner at the end of the backstretch. If a man runs off the track there, he bounces into a tire-wall that throws him right back into the middle of the track.
   That's what happened to Jason Leffler in Friday Nationwide practice, and Jeff Burton only narrowly avoided slamming into him.
   That's what happened again Monday to Sam Hornish Jr., when Kasey Kahne brushed him to the outside.
    When Hornish's car bounced back on the track, he was slammed extremely hard by Jeff Gordon first and then Burton.
   New track president Michael Printup will certainly have to talk with NASCAR about how to make that part of the course safer.
   And there are probably some other areas of this vintage track that need similar attention. Of all the tracks on the NASCAR tour,  this track has appeared to have received the least attention, in terms of extra safety, despite the very high speeds. For one, it is still surrounded by just old-fashion guard rails, not modern soft walls. And it's tire barriers are 1970s technology.
   More gravel traps may be needed.
   "Yeah," Stewart says. "I'm sure NASCAR will look at it. 
    "They have a great staff that can analyze what needs to be done. 
    "I guarantee you they'll look at that after this weekend I'm sure. 
     "The hard part -- that's a section of the track where it splits into the long course (the downhill boot section, which NASCAR doesn't use) and  the short course.  That kind of presents a problem on what flexibility you really have there.
    "But the good thing is what they've done there is safe enough it kept people from getting hurt. 
    "The bad part is when those two cars hit it put them back into the racetrack.  That's the part that makes you concerned…makes you look to see if there's anything you can do different.
   "I guarantee that NASCAR will be on top of that this week and try to find a way to make that where it doesn't happen again."


   Crew chief Darian Grubb (L) has been cool and confident all season, and he's a remarkable job his first year with Tony Stewart (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Grubb has done an excellent so far in the regular season, but as we've seen the past few years, with Kyle Busch's title bid and Jeff Gordon's title bid, just running well, or even extremely well, in the regular season doesn't always carry over to the 10-race playoffs.
   Is Grubb laying out a game plan for the playoffs, which open in just a few weeks at Loudon, N.H. – where just a few years ago Stewart's then-title bid vanishing in the opening laps of that first race when he got caught up in someone else's crash?
    Is Grubb perhaps a little worried that all this regular season momentum won't carry over to the playoffs?
   Yes, the playoffs, Grubb conceded are "a little bit different. 
    "But I don't think you can approach it any differently. 
    "You have to do what has gotten you there in the past. 
    "We have to be able to understand what he wants out of the car.  And for most of the races in the chase, we've been to those tracks one time already in the season; we might not have won there, or had the best performance, but took some lessons learned…so hopefully we're going to be able to get stronger. 
    "We're not going to do anything out of the ordinary either. 
    "Everybody in the chase is going to be pushing so hard those last 10 races.  You got 12 guys you race for the championship -- but you've got 43 you're racing for the wins.
    "Obviously the easiest way to win a championship is to win 10 races. So that's our goal: just go out there and have nice strong performances.
    "We got to be staying ahead of the game too…."

Chad Knaus, with three straight championships, has been the benchmark for NASCAR crew chiefs...but this season he's being challenged by the man who was once his number two -- Darian Grubb (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Is Grubb up to challenging three-time championship crew chief Chad Knaus this fall? "We beat him today, I can say that," Grubb said. 
   "But it wasn't any part of my strategy or his strategy – they had a spin, fell back.  They had a strong car, they were the fastest car all weekend pretty much, Jimmie Johnson and Ambrose. 
   "But we were able to come out on top. 
    "Chad is a good friend of mine, along with all those guys at Hendrick Motorsports.  You know how strong they are. 
    "But there's no one person we're going to be chasing.  We're going to race ourselves and do the best we can those 10 races."

   Monday's weather was just fine at the Glen, though rain loomed on the horizon late and there were a few late sprinkles, after the stretch duel between winner Tony Stewart (14) and Kyle Busch. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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