NASCAR & Auto Racing

Stewart trying to stay in hunt

Winless this season, Tony Stewart the driver definitely could use a victory to help his championship chances.

Stewart the driver/owner could use even more.

After a blazing 2009 as a Sprint Cup driver/owner — Stewart won four races, and he and teammate Ryan Newman qualified for the Chase — the second season hasn't seen nearly as many highlights.

Entering today's Heluva Good! at the Glen in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Stewart hasn't won since Oct. 4 at Kansas and is trying to keep a spot in the 12-driver Chase (he is eighth in points). He will start sixth today.

Newman earned a victory April 10 at Phoenix, but he is 15th in points, 138 behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer.

This season's difficulties have become even more pronounced based on high expectations set by Stewart's first year as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

"The big thing is when people that aren't use to running bad start to run bad, it's easy to start losing confidence and losing focus and losing direction and just getting discouraged," Stewart said. "As a team owner now, I have to worry about watching the whole organization go through that.

"I'm really proud of all of our guys and the fact that they are staying encouraged, they're keeping their heads up, they're staying focused on what they need to do and they're working hard."

For several weeks, Stewart and Newman have mentioned the long hours and extra work put in by employees in trying to get both teams running up front and qualified for the Chase.

"To have that dedication from your guys whether you're winning races or not, to just know that you have that part of the equation on your side gives you hope that the rest of it will get better," Stewart said.

During recent weeks, SHR performance has started to pick up.

Stewart has five top-five finishes during his past eight races, including a runner-up finish last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

Newman has had a harder time of it. His 12th -place finish at Pocono was his best result during the past four races.

"I think right now we are just hitting our stride," said Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief. "That's good because we need wins and we need bonus points for the Chase."

SHR officials believe the tools are in place for the organization to contend for titles.

"It was awesome last year right from the start. To say we haven't been disappointed in the way the season has been so far, yes we have," said Bobby Hutchens, SHR's director of competition.

"We've got a lot of the season left. Tony seems to have started to gain momentum, peaking, and this would be a great weekend to hopefully break into the winner's circle."

With two series championships and 37 wins, Stewart has established impressive credentials as a driver.

While it's too early to put a wrap on his tenure as NASCAR owner, Hutchens sees a very similar approach.

"He's a great owner. On the driver's side, I wouldn't take him over anyone in (this sport) right now. He's a very competitive person," Hutchens said of Stewart.

"He's driven to win and comes every week to take that trophy home and so are we. He didn't start this thing as a kid looking at the money or the glory; it was about winning the race.

"If there is one guy who carries that flag, it's Tony. We're proud to carry it with him."

Ambrose wins Nationwide — Marcos Ambrose won the Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International for the third straight time.

Ambrose started on pole and dominated the race, leading the final half of the 82-lap race around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout, and beat Joey Logano by 2.8 seconds.

Kevin Harvick somehow avoided a 10-car wreck and overcame a dustup on the first lap and a speeding penalty on pit road to finish third. Points leader Brad Keselowski was fourth, followed by Kyle Busch, who was seeking his fourth straight win.

Ron Fellows, Nelson Piquet, Jacques Villeneuve, Steve Wallace and Michael McDowell rounded out the top 10.

Carl Edwards, second in points, finished 33rd after losing a cylinder and dropped 327 points behind Keselowski.

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