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Round Two of the playoffs....and what the heck is going on with Tony Stewart? He's winning again, so why is he so mad at the world?

  Ryan Newman (L) won New Hampshire winner in July, and teammate/boss Tony Stewart, winner at Chicago Monday. Things are looking pretty good for Newman and Stewart right now. So why is Stewart acting like such a weirdo? Is something going on behind the scenes? And who do we get this week: Good Tony or Bad Tony? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Ah, now to the Graveyard Track for Championship Dreams.
   If the first of the 10 NASCAR playoff races was any indication of what to anticipate over the next two months, the lesson would seem to be to expect the unexpected.

   And if you might think this racing season drags on just a bit too long – from February Valentine's Day till November Thanksgiving – here's an item to ponder: so far this season NASCAR drivers, altogether, have racked up some 1.3 million miles of practice, qualifying and racing.

   Tony Stewart, winning Chicago, on gas mileage?
   Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson losing Chicago on gas mileage?
   Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, three top championship challengers, look to be in a deep hole in their title bids. And Denny Hamlin appears to be all but out of it.
   So now Bruton Smith's flat, narrow, one-mile short-track, that July winner Ryan Newman calls "the birthplace of 'track position.'"
   What to expect?
   Ragan Smith: "The first thing that comes to mind about New Hampshire is fuel mileage. Maybe it's because we're just coming off a fuel mileage race in Chicago, or that we ran out of fuel at the July New Hampshire race while running in the top 15.
    "I don't like the fuel mileage races, and it seems like we've had too many of them this season."
    Gas mileage finishes as entertainment? This sport is supposed to be entertaining, remember.
    Ever since May the Sprint Cup tour has been dominated by drivers actually switching off their engines and performing other feather-footing tricks during races in order to stretch gas mileage.
   Now a gas mileage finish every now and then might be intriguing. But this many gas mileage races?


   Now you talk about wild and crazy guys, Carl Edwards is right there at the top of the list. But is he really going to get shot out of a circus cannon at Charlotte in a couple of weeks as part of the pre-race show? Wow! Wonder when he's going to tell team owner Jack Roush? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So NASCAR, in its never-ending fight for better television ratings, started the chase off on a bad foot, first with Sunday's rainout, then with Monday's 'watch 'em run out of gas and fall by the wayside' finish.
   ESPN reports TV ratings were a dismal 1.8.
   Last September, on a good Sunday day at Loudon for the opener, the ratings were only 2.3 – and the rest of the chase didn't do much better really.
   Getting off on a good foot is important.
   If not that, then NASCAR surely needs to rebound here with something lively.
   And this is prime sponsor-hunting time to boot. Team owner Jack Roush says he's still searching and may not have his full lineup set until December. Team owner Richard Childress is also still searching, and he says he hopes to have things set in place within six weeks.
   What that means, of course, is a lot of worried crewmen in the garage, either sweating things out or looking for a job.
   On top of all that, here's another issue: Are Gordon, who finished a weak 24th at Chicago, and Kenseth, 21st, and Kyle Busch, 22nd,  now seriously wounded in their championship bids?
   This doesn't look like a great place for a Kenseth rebound. He hasn't even had a top-10 here in four years; in fact his best finish is only 17th. And he's never won at this track.  That may be why Kenseth was so ticked at losing Chicago, where he appeared to have the winning car down the stretch.
   On the other hand, this could be a good place for Gordon to rebound. Two months ago here Gordon was dominating, when his alternator/battery failed midway; he lost a lap for repairs, had to turn off his brake coolers, finally blew a right-front tire. Too much excitement for one day….
   Kevin Harvick, the tour points leader now, won here once, five years ago, but doesn't run exceptionally well at this track.



Denny Hamlin: Rough season, bad day at Chicago -- so is he toast in the championship playoffs? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   And what's the deal with Stewart? He's been on the chip much of the season, ripping rivals and the media with regularity. Yes, it's been a ragged season for the two-time NASCAR champ. But at Richmond he ripped national journalists on live national television, then called them to his hauler and ripped them again privately. Then at Chicago Friday he ripped another national TV journalist….and then after winning Chicago he began his post-race interview session with the Chicago media by calling them "idiots."
   Is there something wrong here? Are NASCAR executives oblivious to Stewart's repeated insults? Or do they simply not care? And what about the sponsors who pay Stewart's bills? And what about team owner Rick Hendrick, who is nominally 'the adult' in the room?
   Something curiously odd is going on here.

   Meanwhile Hamlin appears to have just about capped his own highly disappointing season with what looks like an early out of the chase – finishing three laps down, 31st, in the lead-off event does not inspire confidence.
   And Hamlin says New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with its tight turns and long straights, a horsepower track, and a place where it's easy to get caught up in someone else's feud, is tough to figure out:
   "You never know what you're going to get out of this place. It's so hard to race at this track, especially side-by-side. 
    "Track position is really big here.  It's a one-mile track but it races like a short-track. You have to put in your Richmond set-ups and hope it all works out."
   Another warning from Hamlin: "It's very tough to avoid trouble, especially on restarts here because everyone fights to get to the bottom."
   Track position…gas mileage…hard to pass.
   Newman points out that "It's a relatively short race. Basically you only need to stop for fuel two, maybe three times, depending on cautions. So you don't get a whole lot of opportunities to work on your car. You start up front, you have a good chance of staying up front."
   Another point, Johnson says is tire wear here it typically "very low." And  'for whatever reason, as tough as it is to drive around here, and as tight as the racing groove is, we don't end up with a lot of cautions."
   As the playoffs begin, a good question -- What's the manufacturers' scorecard so far this season?
   Dodge has four wins.
   Toyota has five wins.
   Ford has six wins.
   And Chevy has 12 wins.
   That means Chevrolet has won almost as many races as the other three car makers combined.
   Does that say something?

   Kyle Busch didn't do well here in July. And he didn't have good luck at Chicago, hitting some debris, then running out of gas with two laps to go.
   So the man who opened the playoffs as tour leader has fallen back to ninth.
   Optimistic? Well, Busch has done a good job keeping his chin up this season in adversity. And then he has won four times; no one has won more.
    "I feel we're a lot better than we've ever been…and you can't get down after one week where some things happen out of our control. We had a strong car all day," Busch says.
    "From pit stop to pit stop (this season), we're a lot more consistent. From race to race, we're a lot more consistent; before, we'd have a bad race and not  rebound, but this year we've been able to rebound.
   "I've been in the chase five out of my seven seasons, but every year is different. When Kurt (his older brother) won the championship in 2004, he had a wreck in Loudon and had an engine let go at Atlanta…and had a couple of bad finishes.
    "But when you look at last year for example, Jimmie Johnson had an average finish of 6.4. That tells you how consistent you have to be in this chase to beat those guys. You aren't going to get a sixth-place average without running in the top-five and winning some races.
    "It's good when you can win a couple and hope you don't have a bad race. But you have to build that possibility that you could have a bad race or two.
     "Talladega -- you know anything can happen there.
     "Same with the repave at Phoenix (the tour's next to last event, in November)."


    Ryan Newman (R), with wife Krissie and their daughter Brooklyn Sage, after winning New Hampshire in July (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


If you are going to be

If you are going to be pointing out the number of wins by Chevrolet, you might also point out the $49 BILLION that GM suckled from the US taxpayers and the $25 BILLION GM still owes the taxpayers. A healthy portion of that was filtered down to Hendrick, Childress,SHR, etc in factory support to keep their dozen plus Chevy teams running. Many taxpayers find this scandalous and offensive and it shows GM's continued arrogance. At least Dodge (Chrysler) had the common sense and decency to cut it's Nascar support down to 2 teams after it also had to ask for taxpayer support. Those two lonely Dodges may yet put up a pretty decent fight for the championship. This might be a good demonstration lesson for GM, which apparently still believes that supporting half the teams/drivers in a racing series on the taxpayers tab demonstrates some type of product superiority.

It's just Tony being "Tony

It's just Tony being "Tony Stupid". He's not smart enough to realize how lucky he is to be where he is and have the tremendous wealth he has. He treats the people in the sport that has given him so much so poorly. Most drivers take the same dumb questions, smile , give the same answer and move on.Calling people like Ed Hinton, Monte Dutton idiots just doesn't cut it for me, I think Tony's the IDIOT in my mind.I call this the ' Tony Stupid Syndrome" not being smart enough to know he's been given a " Charmed Life". I hope he wakes up some day, it's never too late to change.

"He's not smart enough to

"He's not smart enough to realize how lucky he is to be where he is." "..not being smart enough to know he's been given a 'Charmed Life'."

Uh..I think you need to go back and look at Tony's career and see that he's EARNED everything he has from USAC to NASCAR and everything in between. Now granted I think Tony has a short fuse, but hey some people are like that. I think it's great that he's not afraid to speak his mind unlike some of the other "puppet" drivers out there. Are you also not aware of the millions he given to the Victory Junction Gang Camp? I think Kyle Petty could school you sir on Tony's generosity. You need to do a little research before you spew out the garbage you posted above.

OMG! The Journalists need to

OMG! The Journalists need to get over their cry baby complaints and man up! Stewart has ALWAYS been the same with the media..ask asinine questions get asinine answers! Junk in junk out! The attitude of the reporters is Stewart is disrespectful and mean and the fans WANT the answer to "how are holding up under pressure" asked and answered 50 times! Trust me..as a fan there are a lot more interesting questions then the obvious we'd rather have answered! Many times I want to slap the reporters myself so I don't blame Stewart. As far as " fuel mileage racing" goes it's always been this way ... It's all part of the game. If they had bigger fuel cells they would pit less, stretch it further, and STILL end up nursing the gas pedal if the cautions don't fall right. To me a race winner is the driver and team who manage ALL obstacles during a race and cross the finish line first.

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