Could Stewart miss the Chase?

A lot has to happen for Tony Stewart to miss out on the Chase for the Championship, but never say...

A lot has to happen for Tony Stewart to miss out on the Chase for the Championship, but never say never. (Getty)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 PM ET

What seemed totally unlikely only two weeks ago — that defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart could miss the Chase for the Championship this season — is now a possibility.

It may be a remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.

Stewart and the No. 14 Chevrolet team had a terrible outing at the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday with a 32nd-place finish after their Hendrick Motorsports engine failed.

That dropped Stewart down to ninth place in the Chase standings, just 34 points ahead of Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet, who holds down 11th place and a wild-card berth.

Never mind that it looks like Stewart’s three wins this season should make him a lock in at least one of the two wild-card spots, it makes the Bristol night race on Saturday loom very large in the championship picture.

Stewart hasn’t won at the half-mile banked oval since 2001, when he was still driving the No. 20 Pontiac for Joe Gibbs Racing, and more disconcerting is that his average finish at Bristol over the past four races is a dismal 17.5.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that 14th place Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team win the Bristol race and Stewart has another bad outing.

It would give Busch a valuable second win and would put him within striking distance of Stewart.

And if Busch or Kahne — who already has a pair of wins — should pick up a win at either Atlanta or Richmond, Stewart could be on the outside looking in when the Chase starts at Chicagoland Speedway Sept. 16.

Like I said, it is a remote chance, but Stewart should be at least concerned.

TIGHT FIGHT

Speaking of championship races, over in the IZOD IndyCar Series it is shaping up to be a tight fight to the finish with just three events left on the 2012 calendar.

Going into Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, the top four contenders — Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon — are separated by only 28 points.

And Canada’s James Hinchcliffe is in fifth, 63 points back.

With 50 points for a win and points for pole positions, that leaves more than 150 points on the table for the remaining races at Sonoma, Baltimore and Fontana.

Power said this week it is the most competitive season he has been in since he came to North America in 2005.

“It’s insanely competitive,” he said. “You haven’t seen anyone consistently win poles or win races. No one dominates this series. It just proves how tough it is and tight it is.

“You have to work on all the finer points of your driving just to be competitive. Anyone in any other series in the world could come here and I can guarantee you it would take them a good year to get competitive, if they are a good driver.”

According to stats provided by IndyCar any driver within 107 points of the leader after Sunday will remain eligible for the championship as the series heads to Baltimore on Sept. 2.

FINISH LINES

Kevin Harvick will have a new crew chief for his No. 29 Chevrolet at Bristol for the IRWIN Tools Night Race. Gil Martin will be back on top of the pit box Saturday night. Harvick is currently eighth in the standings with no wins this season. ... FOX Sports is reporting that NASCAR bosses are investigating the violent crash that nearly turned deadly when Mark Martin’s No. 55 Toyota slammed into the inside retaining wall of pit road at MIS on Sunday. ... The IndyCar Series will be back at Texas Motor Speedway next season. TMS boss Eddie Gossage announced Tuesday that the open wheelers will be in Texas on June 8 next year. ... If A.J. Allmendinger thinks he can complete NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program before the end of 2012 he should call Aaron Fike, who was reinstated only Tuesday after he completed the program. Fike had been indefinitely suspended for drug use in 2007.

Black eye for Montreal

Montreal race fans should be outraged that their collective reputations have been sullied by the fool who threw his or her shoe on to the track at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve during the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA 200 on Saturday.

With Danica Patrick leading home town favourite Jacques Villeneuve at about the midpoint of the race, her No. 7 Chevrolet struck the shoe at more than 170 m.p.h.

While it was difficult to blame that incident, specifically, for Patrick’s car all of a sudden developing steering and eventually rear axle problems, it certainly did shift the momentum in Villeneuve’s favour.

One would hope that a Villeneuve fan would not do such a thing, but the general consensus among the media covering the race was that this was exactly what happened.

Montreal promoters of the Nationwide race are pushing hard for a Sprint Cup race at the Ile Notre Dame road course for 2015.

The shoe incident will not help their cause.

On the lighter side of the affair de shoe, one Twitter user penned the funniest line of the weekend: “At the end of the race Jacques Villeneuve had better be wearing two shoes.”

Spengler closes in on DTM Championship

Montreal’s Bruno Spengler has his eye on a championship in the DTM series in Europe after posting a win on Sunday at Nurburgring in the No. 7 BMW Team Schnitzer.

Spengler ran away from the field in the race that put him just 40 makers behind current championship leader Gary Paffett in the No. 11 Thomas Sabo Mercedes AMG C-Coupe.

But Spengler is not about to claim his victory puts him in the driver’s seat, so to speak, for the series title.

“You always believe that you can do it and that you can have the chance, but there are still four races to go,” he said.

Gordon rips Junior

When it comes to bad actors in NASCAR Sprint Cup the name of four-time champion Jeff Gordon is almost never in the conversation.

But that wasn’t the case on Sunday during the Pure Michigan 400.

Gordon was fighting to stay in contention in the race and in the Chase when about mid-way through the race his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. got underneath him in Turn 2 forcing a delicate four-wide situation on the two-mile Michigan International Speedway.

Gordon voiced his anger in very un-championship like fashion on the No. 24 Chevrolet’s team radio.

“Tell the f-----g 88 he can thank me later for not wrecking him,” Gordon shouted. “That was f-----g stupid.”

Earnhardt finished fourth and Gordon ended up finishing 28th after an engine failure.

He was still bitter after the race.

“(Earnhardt) took me four-wide, then slid up in front of me in Turn 2,” Gordon said. “I had to check up and it could have wrecked all of us. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, especially to a teammate.

“But he chose to do it and it all worked out. I don’t care who does it, I’m going to show my displeasure if they do something like that.”

 


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