Stewart sizzles in summertime

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As the temperatures heat up, so does Tony Stewart.

Not only does Stewart top the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, he has two wins under his belt and is moving in on Kyle Busch’s and Mark Martin’s series-best three wins thus far. Seems like a good time to be heading to a track where he has excelled.

“It’s a place I like,” Stewart said of Chicagoland Speedway, site of Saturday’s 400.

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“This place is really getting racy as far as finally being able to move around and change lines and run anywhere from the bottom to the top. It’s a fun track because of that,” said Stewart.

Stewart is tied with Kevin Harvick for most wins at the track with two each. His wins came in 2004 and 2007, while Harvick won back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.

Three could be magic number for Montoya

Three just might be Juan Pablo Montoya’s lucky number.

This is the third consecutive week the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver has secured a top-12 spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

Three years ago at Chicagoland Speedway, the Colombian native announced he was leaving Formula 1 to come to NASCAR.

The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, and now in his third full season, Montoya currently is 11th in the standings, only 14 points behind 10th place Matt Kenseth and 21 points ahead of Kasey Kahne in 12th.

RCR looks for turnaround at Chicagoland

Seven different teams populate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top 12, the most after 18 races since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup expanded to 12 teams in 2007.

But one team is noticeably missing from the list – Richard Childress Racing.

After putting all three of its cars in last year’s Chase, RCR expanded to a four-car operation in the offseason.

Currently, none of those four cars have a victory this season, and the closest driver to a Chase spot is Jeff Burton in 15th-place.

Eight races remain until the Chase’s start, meaning RCR must move quickly if it wants to make a serious playoff push. This Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland might prove a good launching point.

Burton has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Chicagoland races, including a runner-up finish in 2006.

Clint Bowyer, currently 16th in the series points, has been in a slump over recent weeks.

After spending the first 10 weeks in the top 12 – with a high-position of second – Bowyer has finished outside the top 10 in 10 of the last 12 races.

Still, he is solid at Chicagoland, finishing in the top 10 in two of the last three races.

The RCR driver with the strongest record at Chicagoland is also the one furthest from Chase contention: Kevin Harvick. Slumping through a surprisingly difficult season, Harvick is 26th in points.

Fast Facts

The Race: 400

The Date: Saturday, July 11

The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Track: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval)

The Distance: 400 miles/267 laps

TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. ET

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top 12

Driver Points

1. Tony Stewart 2,719

2. Jeff Gordon 2,539

3. Jimmie Johnson 2,525

4. Kurt Busch 2,414

5. Carl Edwards 2,317

6. Denny Hamlin 2,302

7. Ryan Newman 2,235

8. Kyle Busch 2,234

9. Greg Biffle 2,215

10. Matt Kenseth 2,201

11. Juan Pablo Montoya 2,187

12. Kasey Kahne 2,166