Stewart’s four wheels are rolling!

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2005

Tony Stewart’s performance over the last two months has been nothing short of dominating. With his win at Watkins Glen last week, Stewart has now won five of the last seven races and has posted eight consecutive top-five finishes. Once the green flag fell to begin the road course race last week, was there any doubt that the winner of the race was the driver for Home Depot? Stewart led 83 of the 92 laps and has pushed Jeff Gordon aside as the premier road-racer among the NASCAR regulars.

This week’s venue, Michigan International Speedway was the track that began Stewart run of dominance. He finished second in that race and has not been outside the top-five since. Going into that race, he was 11th in points. Boy, what a difference two months can make.

Stewart now leads Jimmie Johnson by 105 points and has made a mockery of the 400-point window. At one point early in the season, 14 drivers were within 400 points of the leader, making them eligible to compete for the championship in the final ten races.

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Now, only five drivers are within the 400-point range and I don’t see that changing before the chase begins in five weeks.

Four races remain for guys on the bubble to get an invitation to the party. Only 76 points separate Jamie McMurray in ninth and Kevin Harvick in 14th position. That great Saturday night race in Richmond Sept. 10 will be lots of fun.

The two guys that have garnered the most attention in their struggles this year are Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both drivers had decent finishes at Watkins Glen, Junior finished tenth and Gordon finished 14th and moved closer to 10th place. Of the two, Gordon seems to have the better chance to rally and make the chase. He is 67 points behind Carl Edwards in tenth and he was historically performed very well at the next four tracks.

Junior has a different story to tell. He is 163 points out of tenth, but he is at the point now that his fate will be determined by the drivers ahead of him in the points. He needs many of the drivers to struggle, and struggle mightily over the next few races. I just don’t see that happening. The stars will have to align in a big way for Junior to make the cut. I think he missed his chance by finishing last at Indianapolis.

Can you see the wheels turning in the Jack Roush-Chip Ganassi-Roger Penske saga? Initially, Jack Roush stated that he would absolutely not release Kurt Busch to move to Penske next year. Ganassi has held firm that Jamie McMurray will be driving the Texaco no. 42 and not the no. 6 next year.

Now, Roush has changed his tune a bit and that Busch’s release is &uot;under consideration.&uot; Even though all signs point in a different direction, I still think Busch will be in the no. 2 and McMurray will be in the no. 6 in 2006.

These situations invariably have a way of working themselves out.

Michigan is the next stop on the tour and produces some of the fastest lap times of any track. Qualifying speed will reach into the mid 190 mph range and the racing will be exciting.

My pick to win this week is Matt Kenseth. He has eight top 10 finishes in 12 career races here and a Ford driver has won five of the last seven races at Michigan.

Television coverage begins at 2 p.m. on TNT and the green flag will wave at about 2:40. Enjoy the race.

Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His column regularly appears in newspapers throughout the southeast. He can be reached by e-mail at jeff.