LONG POND, Pa. - Tony Stewart was back where he feels like he belongs toward the end of Sunday's Pennsylvania 500, running with the best cars near the front of the pack.
Stewart finished second to Carl Edwards, matching his best finish of the season. He was also the runner-up in the season's fourth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and this was only his third top-five finish in the past 14 races.
Stewart is still looking for his first win of the season, but this was definitely more like it.
"For us, that's a win," Stewart said after joking about having forgotten what it was like to come to the media center for interviews of the top-three finishers. "We finally got up to run with the guys who ran up front all day.
"After the slump we've been in it's a great feeling to do that again. With the success we've had sometimes you can take that for granted a little bit."
Stewart is in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing, of course, but before he leaves to become co-owner of Stewart Haas Racing next year he still has a lot of racing he wants to do in the No. 20 Toyota.
Stewart moved up one spot to ninth in the Sprint Cup standings with Sunday's finish. He's still just 68 points clear of 13th-place Matt Kenseth in the jumble for the final Chase spots. Only 126 points separates seventh-place Kasey Kahne from 14th-place Carl Edwards in the race for 12 Chase slots.
"It seemed like we were an eighth- to 10th-place car before the red flag," Stewart said, speaking of a delay of 41 minutes 6 seconds for rain with just more than 70 laps left in the scheduled distance. "After that, I think the track tightened up a lot. We were just too loose until that."
Stewart now hopes that Sunday's good finish converts into momentum for next week's road-course event at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Stewart won the race there a year ago and he thinks that even can be an important milestone in a season.
"Watkins Glen is one of those races where you have maybe two handsful of guys who really like going there," Stewart said. "About half of them can take it or leave it and the other quarter would be fine if we didn't go there or Sonoma.
"When you come out of the Glen, I think, is when you really want to be on a hot streak."