Tony Stewart says that after getting his initial victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2005, the pressure on him for a popular hometown win evaporated. It doesn't mean he wants another Brickyard victory any less, though.
Stewart, a Columbus, Ind., native, will vie for a third Indy triumph in Sunday's Crown Royal Curtiss Shaver 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN), the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 19th visit to the hallowed Indy track.
Being competitive in his own backyard has come easy to Stewart, who also won at Indianapolis in 2007 and whose impressive average finish of 8.1 is the best of any stock-car driver here. The performance edge has made it that much easier to call the 2.5-mile track home.
"Probably the best part is we have so many friends and family that get to come up to the Brickyard," Stewart said. "That makes the days even that much better.
"As far as putting pressure on ourselves, I don't think we really do that anymore," Stewart added. "As time has gone on, I think after we won that first one in 2005, it's just taken a huge weight off our shoulders on that side, and we just go at it every year with the attitude that we know what it takes to win there and we try to do our best to accomplish it."
Another reason some of the pressure has subsided this season is Stewart's relatively firm footing in the jockeying for postseason berths in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Stewart ranks seventh in the series standings, but he's in a tight knot of drivers on the edge of qualifying for the playoffs by making the top 10; only nine points separate sixth-place Kevin Harvick from 10th-place Brad Keselowski.
Even with the tenuous grip on a top-10 spot, Stewart's strength stems from his three wins, tying Keselowski for the most in the series this year. Should either of those two drivers from from the ranks of the top 10, they would be in prime position for one of two wild-card spots for drivers in positions 11-20 with the most wins.
"I think the biggest thing for us right now [is to remember that] even though it's a big weekend, this is one battle in the war, and the war is to try to win a championship at the end of the season," Stewart said. "To do that, we have got to beat the system.
"So I don't think an all-or-nothing attitude is the approach we are going to have this week," Stewart said. "We definitely have that luxury to do that with the three wins that we've got, but I think right now, in the big picture, we are trying to get the consistency the best we can, and I would like to see us put together some consistent runs before the Chase actually starts."