After several weeks of struggles and doubts about his Stewart-Haas Racing team's performance and ability to make the Chase, Tony Stewart finally had a good day on Tuesday.
Stewart finished third at Atlanta Motor Speedway, solidifying his position in the top 10 in points on the same day his teammate Ryan Newman clinched a Chase spot.
The two-time NASCAR champion is now 23 points ahead of 11th-place Brad Keselowski.
"We definitely gained a couple on him today," Stewart said. "And it may come down to one point. So having the strong finish that we had may be the difference of making it or not making it next week."
If Stewart finishes 18th or better at Richmond, he will make the Chase no matter what Keselowski does. But on Tuesday, he was simply pleased to rebound at a track he considers one of the most enjoyable on which to race.
"I will say this: If (track president) Ed Clark decides to repave this racetrack, I'll personally shoot him myself," Stewart said. "This place is so racy, so much fun. ... You actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that's what makes it fun here, because guys overdrive run their cars, run too hard on the front and then they fall off the last half."
Stewart's team told him he gained 8.5 seconds on the race leaders over the last run. It was a performance that was as welcome as water in the desert to Stewart fans, who had seen his entire organization struggle this summer.
"It's been a tough last couple of months," Stewart said. "But I appreciate everybody in our shop, the road crews. And Ryan making the Chase, getting locked in today, and just all of our partners and sponsors."