It was not just the axle cap of the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that crew members were scrambling to fix in the pits during Sunday's race in New Hampshire, it was also the magic.
The magic, that is, that had carried Tony Stewart to the top of the standings during the pre-Chase portion of the Sprint Cup schedule but had wavered in recent weeks and appeared to be vanishing in Sunday's playoff-season opener in Loudon.
This weekend at Dover International Speedway, Stewart and his team will continue trying to patch up that magic and resuscitate their hopes for winning a Sprint Cup championship in their debut season.
“We had some definite lows (at New Hampshire) because of the mechanical issue with the car,” Darian Grubb, crew chief for Stewart, said this week. “We'll just go to Dover…and try to get the win.”
A win in Sunday's AAA 400 would be most welcome in the Stewart-Haas shop. It would be welcome for the points it would bring, but also for the emotional lift.
Emotional lifts had not been a problem around the Stewart-Haas operation for the first 22/36ths of the season. The team and its drivers were exceeding expectations on a weekly basis back then.
Nine times in the first 13 weeks of the season, Stewart finished in the top ten. And when he finished second at Dover in Week 13, he found himself on top of both the standings and the story-of-the-year list.
A week later at Pocono, Stewart won his first race as an owner/driver and the surge was on. He won twice more in the next eight races, and his average finish in his ten-race blitz was 3.6.
The dude was running away with the points lead.
In early August, after winning at Watkins Glen for his eighth top five in ten races, Stewart was asked if he was thinking championship.
His answer was wise and understandable. It was also prophetic.