Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Sports columns

March 27, 2012

Stewart is looking dominant

Overdue Earnhardt is good bet to win next month at Talladega

— For the 42 other teams racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, it’s probably time to be in worry mode.

Defending champion Tony Stewart is known for slow starts to seasons before peaking when the dogs days of August set in. That scenario can be thrown out the window.

Last year, “Smoke” lamented that his team was not going to challenge for the championship, he then reeled off five wins in the Chase to finish in a tie atop the points standings with Carl Edwards. Stewart won the title based on having more race wins than Edwards.

Through the first five races of this season, Stewart already has scored two wins, at Las Vegas and California, and is fourth in the point standings.

The Rushville Rocket has won seven of the past 15 Sprint Cup races and the team is hitting on all eight cylinders.

Many wondered about Stewart’s decision at the end of the 2011 season to replace his crew chief with Steve Addington. That now looks like a winning move for Stewart.

With the prospects of a rain-shortened race at California, Stewart charged to the lead on lap 85 with a pass of Kyle Busch and during a round of green flag pit stops was back in the lead when rain halted the race on lap 129.

“It’s been nice to get off to a good start this year the way we have,” Stewart commented after the win. “The history shows the last 13 years, we haven’t had the strongest start the first third of the year.”

While Stewart was celebrating in victory lane, the collective leadership has to be shaking their heads at the decision made by Denny Hamlin’s crew to make an ill-advised pit stop with rain falling on lap 125, which resulted in an 11th-place finish.

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