A year ago, with six races to go in NASCAR’s Chase for the championship, Jimmie Johnson was seventh in the standings, trailing leader Jeff Burton by 146 points.
With a furious finish, and some unwilling help from the drivers ahead of him, Johnson wound up winning the Nextel Cup title, beating runner-up Matt Kenseth by 56 points.
If Johnson can do it, why not two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart?
That was Stewart’s thinking as he headed into Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, fourth in the standings and 154 points behind Jeff Gordon, with only Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer in between.
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“All we can do is go for broke now,” Stewart said. “It’s been done. Jimmie Johnson did it last year. So for us, it’s just a matter of not worrying about what everybody else is doing. It really takes the pressure off of us.
“We just need to go out and worry about winning races now and hope we are where we need to be at the end of the day.”
Stewart failed to qualify for the Chase a year ago, but was easily the hottest non-qualified driver, winning three of the last eight races. Moreover, he has scored nine of his 32 Cup victories at the six tracks remaining on this year’s schedule.
“You still take it one week at a time,” Stewart said. “That’s how we’ve won championships in the past, no matter what division they were in. Our theory is go out and try to win the race, and if we can’t win, then finish as high as we can and get the most points as we can. It sounds really simple and basic, but really, that’s how basic and simple we treat it.
“It’s not complicated: If you win races, the points will take care of themselves. But, if you can’t win, you can’t just throw it away trying to win the race. You’ve got to be smart and finish as high as you can and not take too many unnecessary chances that can give you the opportunity for having a bad day.”