Tony Stewart’s Sonoma win on Sunday makes him eligible to be one of the final 16 drivers participating in the season’s final 10 races during the Chase for the Championship.
All he has to do now is get himself into 30th-place and he’ll be on his way to re-producing the same type of storyline as Kyle Busch last year when he won at Sonoma and helped propel him to the season title. Stewart is currently in 32nd-place after missing the first eight races, but only needs to make up nine points over the next 10.
Before the win, Stewart was listed at 100-to-1 odds to win the 2016 Chase. That number is surely to drop almost in half now that he’s so close to making it. How he’ll perform from here on out is still a mystery because it was only his third top-10 in eight races and one of those he needed a replacement driver to finish at Talladega. However, this win could be a jump start for him, a psychological boost of sorts after all the tragedy he’s endured physically and emotionally the past three seasons.
Sunday’s win ended an 84-race winless streak. His last victory was at Dover in 2013. Stewart hopes his 2016 story ends up just like Busch’s did last year. Following Busch’s Sonoma triumph, he would go on to win three of the next four races in July and then eventually capturing his first title. Stewart is looking to win his fourth title and what a story it would be if he were to ride off into the sunset a champion in his final season like Peyton Manning or John Elway.
Even if he hadn’t won last week he’d still be a good candidate to in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. He’s never won the Daytona 500, and he missed his final attempt this year because of an off-season road racing accident, but he is a four-time winner in the summer race at Daytona, the last one coming in 2012. He’s also led 668 laps over 34 Daytona starts which is most among all active drivers. Brian Vickers drove his No. 14 to a 26th-place finish in February. Because most of the cars in restrictor-plate races are so equal, a rejuvenated Stewart might offer value to win at 30-1 odds or higher.
The driver we have to key on first, however, is Denny Hamlin who won the Sprint Unlimited non-points race and then the Daytona 500 a week later. Hamlin led a race-high 95 laps in the 500, continuing a strong three year run in plate races. His winning car is on display for fans in Daytona, but the package used can be replicated easily by his team and we should expect Hamlin to be almost as good as he was during Daytona Speedweeks.
The favorite to win Saturday is Dale Earnhardt Jr. who won this race last season giving him four Daytona wins for his career. He’s led 593 laps in 33 career starts and has compiled an impressive 13.3 average finish. He’s desperate for a win this season and become the 12th different driver to win a race this season.
You can expect all of Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to be almost as good as him. Matt Kenseth led 40 of the final 41 laps in the 500 before being shuffled back to 14th late on the last lap. Kyle Busch would finish third and Carl Edwards fifth. Martin Truex Jr., who uses JGR equipment, was runner-up. The only non-JGR driver to crack the top-five was Kevin Harvick in fourth.
Happy Fourth-of-July to all!
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].