Weeks ago, when the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup started, Tony Stewart didn't list himself as one of the favorites.
And yes, he could have voted for himself.
But in that Tony Stewart way, he was just being honest with the people who ask him questions.
"You know, at the point when we talked about that, I felt like there were some things that were missing," he said.
He hadn't won a single race when the Chase began seven weeks ago in Chicago. He was seeded ninth. He had only three top-5s (the least among the Chase competitors, tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and nine top-10s, fewest in the field.
He has more Chase victories than anyone in the seven Chase races so far. He won his third "playoff" race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, again changing the face of the Chase as the Sprint Cup series comes to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Stewart comes to Fort Worth just eight points behind the leader, Carl Edwards.
He made up two spots and 11 points at Martinsville, becoming the new biggest threat to Edwards now that Matt Kenseth fell to fifth with a 31st-place finish.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are nearby, but Stewart has the momentum again, the kind of momentum he built by winning the first two races of the Chase.
"I don't know anybody that doesn't enjoy being in the middle of it with three weeks to go," Stewart said after the race. "It's a great feeling. You work hard all year to try to be in this position. When you start the Chase off with 10 races to go, a lot can happen.
"There were guys that may have had their chances taken away today. So to be in a position that we're in right now, sitting here knowing that we're right in the middle of this thing with three weeks to go, it is obviously a great feeling and great position to be in.... It's nice to leave here with the momentum going to three tracks that we like and enjoy."
Edwards, who entered the race with a 14-point lead over Kenseth and now has an eight-point lead over Stewart, doesn't have to be convinced Stewart is a contender.
"Tony and those guys, they've obviously won three Chase races, so when I sat in here on Friday, I told you guys I thought he was one of the guys that could win this race and be a guy that you'd have to beat for the championship, and I think he's proving that right now," Edwards said. "But yeah, we'll have fun. We'll go race hard. They're going to have to race us, too."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760