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Maybe now Tony Stewart is finally all fired up: He says he's ready 'to make the highlight reels'

  And Tony Stewart's sponsor for the 'Prelude' is......Gillette? LOL: "I don't shave very much, but every day I want to shave a little bit more every time I see an ad they run on TV." (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Considering how impressive Tony Stewart debuted in 2009 as owner-driver, this spring so far he's been just mediocre.
   And it doesn't set well with the two-time NASCAR champion...whose last tour victory was last October at Kansas.
   So when rivals got him fired up in the second half of Sunday's Pocono 500, well, Stewart ripped hard:
    "Restarts were idiotic...I've seen some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my life in a professional series right here," Stewart fumed.
    "So for anybody looking for drama for the next couple races, start looking -- 'cause I can promise I'm going to start making the highlight reel the next couple weeks."
    How that might play out this next weekend at wide-and-easy Michigan Speedway is unclear. But the following three races would seem right down Stewart's alley:
    So buy your tickets now to that Sonoma race and Loudon and Daytona:
   --  http://www.infineonraceway.com/tickets/toyota_save_mart_350/
   -- http://www.nhms.com/schedule/nascar/lenox_301/
   -- http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/Tickets-Events/Events/2010/Coke-Zero-400/Coke-Zero-400-Powered-By-Coca-Cola.aspx

   One year ago Stewart was atop the Sprint Cup standings, the winner of the Charlotte All-Star, and aiming on his first Cup tour win right here.
   Going into Sunday's Pocono 500, Stewart was 16th in the points, winless, with a best finish of second at Bristol, and a pole at Texas, and averaging a 17th-place run. Little wonder he didn't really have much to talk about before the 500....except his upcoming Eldora Speedway promotion, Wednesday night's pay-for-view 'Prelude to the Dream' dirt track event, with a bevy of NASCAR stars, in the charity race.
   But after the race....well, when Tony's hot, he wears his emotions on his sleeve.
   Yes, he wound up third, surprisingly, considering how back in the pack he ran most of the four-hour race: "Not a beautiful day by any means but we got where we needed to in the end.
    "We got some track position, and we had a pretty good car when we got there.  But I wasn't very good in traffic...and a lot of guys were racing like a bunch of idiots."  Here's video of the last lap big one:  http://bit.ly/94UALu
   Jimmie Johnson, who has had his own problems lately, and who had an up-and-down Sunday, agreed with Stewart: "It wasn't much fun at all, to be honest with you," Johnson said of the final 30 laps or so. "There's so much to lose, and so much chaos on the track.
    "It's one thing when you're at Bristol going 100 mph, but when you're running 200 mph and seeing some of these moves...it was pretty crazy."

   Crew chief Darian Grubb made the key calls in the pits for Stewart, getting him in position for a shot at the win (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Credit crew chief Darian Grubb for pulling a cool move on that top-off pit stop late that gave Stewart track position up front. And Stewart was then a bear to try to pass. Just ask Kyle Busch....who finally got around him for second in the final frantic miles.
    In fact Grubb's call Sunday was almost exactly the same call that won the race for Stewart last June. This time, while the race was under caution on lap 160, Grubb called Stewart to pit road for a quick top-off, with just enough fuel to go the distance.
   "We never got good track position all day," Stewart grumbled. " Finally when we got good track position, at the end of the day, we were decent. 
   "We drove away from Kyle  Busch (who wound up second at the finish).  He probably said he thought we were going to run out of fuel.  But his lap times -- he wasn't backing off of it.  And we were able to drive away from him at the end of the day. 
     "I'm happy where we ended up because of it.  But we still got a lot of work to do."
    Any shot at Denny Hamlin for the win at the end? "No, not really," Stewart said. "I mean, he sailed it off down in there (the first turn) and slid all the way across (the track), almost got us in the crumbs. 
    "We slid the same way. 
    "We both drove it in deep -- deeper than we both should have, actually."

   Roots racin' -- Tony Stewart's Wednesday night Pay-Per-View charity race, on his Eldora dirt. Isn't that good 'ol 48 in the lead? But I wouldn't give Tony (14) the inside line like that. And better keep an eye on wild man Robby Gordon (7).  (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Now it's on to Eldora....
    "This is when I start getting nervous, and start watching The Weather Channel like there's nothing else on TV to watch," Stewart says, recalling last summer's rainout.
   Since it's Stewart's track, it's no surprise he's the guy to beat Wednesday night. But a couple years ago Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin put on the show. And maybe this time Stewart will play the good host and not stink up the show.
   Among the NASCAR men in the 'Prelude': Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Marcos Ambrose, and Bill Elliott.
   To spice things up he's paired up some of the drivers into 'teams,' for what that's worth: "We looked at everybody that had been there before, and how they had run at the Prelude, and tried to stack the teams to where they were as even as we could make them.
   "Even if they don't have a shot to win, their finish does count and makes a big impact."
   So this week he's taking off his owner-driver hat and putting on his promoter's cap. "We've got to make this thing happen, and we need everybody's help here. 
    "What people don't understand – it's four months of non-stop work to make this thing happen. This is not something that gets put together overnight.  This is an event that takes thousands and thousands of man-hours from a lot of different groups, to make it all happen on one day...especially at a facility that you can't just bring a jet dryer out if it rains.
    "It's a lot of pressure."
    On the drivers themselves too, who don't normally spend many hours in a dirt sprint car.
    But Stewart, who sometimes seems to just barely tolerate life on the NASCAR tour, says he tries to create a atmosphere for the 'prelude' that makes it fun for his fellow drivers, who are interrupting their own hectic lives to spend this day for charity.
    "It really is an 'atmosphere,' and I think it's something these guys really look forward to," Stewart says.
    "I don't know how many guys this year tested, but I know last year Kevin Harvick tested five times before he came. 
     "There's a group of us staying over after the race and we're just going to hang around and have a good time -- and that's something we never really get to do."

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  Things did get a little crazy at times during Sunday's Pocono 500. Here Casey Mears takes a smoky spin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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