Tony Stewart is a lock to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Big deal, you say. It doesn't take a crystal ball to make that prediction.
After all, consecutive top-five finishes at Pocono and Michigan have moved Stewart to 11th in points, and his program is on the upswing at the time of year when performance usually picks up for the Rushville Rocket.
It might surprise you considerably more, however, to learn that Juan Pablo Montoya—currently 20th in the Cup standings—also is a likely Chase driver for many of the same reasons Stewart is a shoo-in.
The schedule favors both drivers, and that's why Stewart isn't the least bit nervous about his Chase prospects.
“I'm not as panicked about the top 12 right now as I think some of the guys that are close to that bubble,” Stewart said after Sunday's strong fifth-place run at Michigan. “We've just got to keep going out, and if we keep riffling off top fives like this, we won't have to worry about it. We'll be there.”
Stewart has ample reason to be confident. First of all, he has at least one victory at each of the 11 racetracks the Cup series will visit before the Chase starts. Further, 25 of his 37 career wins have come at those racetracks.
Stewart has won twice at the Infineon Raceway road course, the next stop on the Cup tour. At the series' other road course, Watkins Glen, he has five victories in 11 starts. Stewart has taken the checkered flag three times at Daytona, all in July when the track is slicker and much to his liking.
At the vaunted Brickyard, he has won twice and finished in the top 10 in seven of 11 starts. And at Richmond, the venue that hosts the cutoff race for the Chase, Stewart has three victories.
Stewart's enhanced prospects have coincided with improved performance from the Stewart-Haas Racing team he co-owns.
“I'm pretty excited about it,” Stewart said after Sunday's race. “That's the best car we've had in a long time, so I'm really proud of our guys. We're definitely gaining on it. I felt racy today.”
Montoya's path to the Chase is much more challenging, with very little margin for error, but the remaining schedule should give him more than a glimmer of hope.
At Infineon in 2007, Montoya picked up his only Cup win. At Indianapolis last year, he dominated, only to be foiled by a pit-road speeding penalty. Astute strategy from crew chief Brian Pattie has helped Montoya to three straight top 10s at Pocono.