Tony Stewart was hoping for a repeat of last year, when a Chase-opening victory propelled him to his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
But in Sunday's Chicagoland Speedway race, which had few cautions and meant track position was everything, it wasn't to be. Instead, Stewart was forced to settle for a hard-fought sixth-place finish.
"We got caught a lap down there once and never caught a break," Stewart said. "We just never got the track position we needed to get going."
If Stewart had gotten that track position, it appeared he had a car capable of running with the leaders. After all, it took him just 50 laps to work his way into the top 10 despite qualifying 29th. But a vibration with one of his tires during the first yellow flag necessitated a second pit stop – and Stewart had to restart 28th.
Stewart then got back into the top 10 by lap 100, but he got trapped a lap down when the caution came out as he was making a pit stop. That bad break forced Stewart to take the wave-around to get his lap back, which made him restart towards the back.
"We probably passed more cars than anybody today," Stewart said.
The good news for him is despite all the setbacks, he was still able to post a respectable finish – and that had him feeling a bit optimistic afterwards. Stewart is third in the point standings, eight points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
"Not exactly what we were looking for, but we were just a little bit off," Stewart said. "If we can end up with a top 10 being a little bit off, we're going to be in good shape."