Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet, is second in the standings in the Chase for the Spring Cup after winning Monday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. He's only seven points behind the leader, Kevin Harvick, and would seem to be in perfect position to make a run at the championship.
It would seem that way to everyone, except Stewart.
The 2002 and 2005 Cup champion has repeatedly asserted that he cannot win a third title and that his team didn't even belong in the Chase. Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the only drivers in the Chase who failed to win at least one race during the season.
"I just don't know if we're capable of taking advantage of it right now," Stewart told Speed TV before the Chase began. "It's not for lack of desire and will by anybody's parts. We just struggle. I'm hoping the last couple of weeks are an indication that things might be turning around. I'm not sure if that is the case. We'll know in the next couple of weeks, for sure."
After crossing the start-finish line in Joliet, Ill., first on Monday, Stewart declined to change his stance.
"One day doesn't change the whole season," he said.
Some of this might be a result of his ongoing verbal tussle with the media; whatever a reporter asks, Stewart typically tacks the exact opposite tack while subtly (or unsubtlely) insulting the reporter in the process. Some of it might just be Stewart's innate contrariness, which was once thought to be impetuousness but now, clearly, is just part of his personality.
Then again, Stewart might really and truly believe that he has no chance. The evidence disputes that notion.
Stewart did not have a win during the season, but he entered the chase after having finished in the top 10 in three of the final four races. He holds a three-point advantage on the third-place driver, Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards, as the Chase now turns to Loudon, N.H., where the Stewart-Haas Racing team finished one-two in July with teammate Ryan Newman.
Stewart says he's counting himself out, but the driver he's chasing doesn't buy it.
"Counting Tony Stewart out?" Harvick said. "That's pretty funny that he counts himself out."