A frustrated Tony Stewart was at a loss to explain why he and his No. 14 team struggled terribly in the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday, saying he was just as puzzled as everyone else.
"I'd really like to know (why)," he said. "We're just bad right now."
Stewart ended up 42nd of the 45 drivers who participated in the opening practice at Richmond International Raceway. It might not be a big deal normally, but Stewart has to finish 14th or better to ensure his spot in the Chase's top 10 (he'd still make it as a wild card but wouldn't be able to use any bonus points).
"I'm starting to question whether somebody can drive it better than me at this point of the equation," Stewart said quietly. "I just can't get it to do what I'm wanting it to do at any point."
The defending series champion said he couldn't answer any questions about the Chase, because "I can't even get through this week right now." He also said he wasn't happy with any part of the team's racing program lately.
Of course, it was around this time one year ago when Stewart said he didn't even deserve to make the Chase. Then he won five races and the championship.
Maybe he should just say the same thing again this year.
"If that's what I thought it would take for it to work, I'd be right on it and pulling up everybody's transcripts from last year trying to make sure I get it exactly word for word," he said, managing a weak smile. "If we honestly think it works, sign me up for it."
In other Stewart-related news, the driver/team owner signed Ryan Newman to a contract extension at Stewart-Haas Racing this week despite not having a sponsor. Stewart said it was important to both he and Newman to get a deal done, even though he acknowledged it was somewhat of a risk to rehire a driver with no financial backing in place.
"You gotta start first with something," he said. "It's kind of the: 'What comes first, the chicken or the egg?' It's hard to get sponsors if you don't have a driver and it's hard to have a driver if you don't have sponsors. So we had to start somewhere."
As for Stewart's own sponsorship, he addressed the impending departure of Office Depot (which was announced last week at Atlanta). Office Depot, which has struggled in the bad economy, is cutting its involvement in NASCAR.
"I've been listening to all these politicians speak about how they're going to make things different, but I haven't seen anything get any better yet," Stewart said. "It's just hard. I'm appreciative of everything Office Depot has done for us; they were the first company to come on board with us when we started this deal. It was a hard decision for them to have to back away from it.
"I understand as a business owner what they're faced with, so I can't blame them. I understand 100 percent why they had to do what they had to do."