Last June, Pocono was filled with more drama than an episode of
"Restarts were idiotic today," he said, using the competition as his punching bag to get a little cocky. "I've seen some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my life in a professional series right here today. So for anybody that's 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."
Six weeks later, the season's been righted amidst five more top-10 finishes, launching him to ninth in points and comfortably inside the Chase. Considering Stewart's a late bloomer -- 33 of his 37 wins have come after June 1st -- breaking out of his funk was all but expected.
Just not the way he's done it. Over the last few months, we've seen Logano,
All of which makes his quiet-as-a-mouse summer surge all the more puzzling. The only highlight reel he's been making is -- gasp! -- thanking his sponsors for support, his team for working hard, and shooting a few hoops with
Now 39 and shackled with responsibility, it's possible maturity is finally catching up to Stewart. But wouldn't you think there's a secret sense of urgency with a team most believed could contend for the championship? With just 20 laps led in his last 11 starts, the No. 14 team is still nursing an ugly zero in the win column. Those aren't the type of statement-inducing numbers that get
Yet Stewart has kept himself well within striking distance, just a single dominating performance away from reasserting himself as a title contender. That's why I'm keeping an eye on him this Sunday. After all, this track serves as a good gauge for how far the No. 14 has come, the same place he got his first win as an owner/driver last June. And in the midst of all this NASCAR in-fighting, wouldn't it be nice to see Tony do a little trash talking in Victory Lane?
Here's four other drivers to watch during a second trip to the Tricky Triangle:
RCR's forgotten third stooge had the fastest car at Pocono this June, leading 59 of the first 98 laps. But in a matter of minutes, he got irritated by the way teammate Kevin Harvick roughed him up to take over first, lost focus temporarily, and smacked the wall. He still brought the wounded car home ninth, a credit to the strength of his RCR Chevy. If they can just bring the same setup back to fine-tune, he enters the weekend a hidden favorite to end a two-year victory drought.
How could you talk Pocono without mentioning Hamlin's name? Four of his 13 victories have come at the triangle, including the last two in a row. But since winning there and at Michigan in June, the last five races have not been kind to the No. 11 team: one top-10, four laps led and apparently a $50,000 fine. A strong finish Sunday is imperative to stop the bleeding.
Coming off three straight top-10 finishes, the No. 99 team has momentum heading to a track where they've won twice with Edwards behind the wheel. With owner
Sure, he hasn't exactly been top-5 or even top-10 material as of late. But this team started to show signs of life at Indy, and now Martin heads to a place where he's scored more career top-10 finishes (32) than anyplace else on the circuit. Thirteenth in points, 62 behind Bowyer, Martin is feeling the pressure to launch his bid for that elusive first championship.