Sports

Tony Stewart isn't panicked by his slow Sprint Cup start

Nobody's talking about Tony Stewart right now. He hasn't given anybody any reason to.

He finished 16th in the fiery, prime time Daytona 500 and 22nd last week at Phoenix. He's 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings as the series heads to Las Vegas this weekend.

Not really looking like the hunted.

But not really caring whether he's the hunted or the hunter.

"I'm one of these guys that, I guess, feels like everybody starts the year at zero," he said Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway's Media Day, where the defending series champion met with reporters to promote the racing season at TMS.

"This sport changes so rapidly as far as the technology, it's easy to get behind if you're not paying attention," he said. "So I don't feel like the hunted guy. I focus on what we've got to do to stay where we're at."

Where he is isn't bad.

He won his third Sprint Cup series championship last year, outdueling Carl Edwards in a breakneck 10-race finish.

He has a new crew chief, Steve Addington, who he feels comfortable with. He already has a win, in one of the Gatorade Duels at Daytona, as does his former crew chief, Darian Grubb, who won last week in Phoenix with Denny Hamlin.

"I was proud of him," Stewart said. "It's hard when you switch. You feel like you have to improve yourself. We both got that first win out of the way. I think it takes a load off both our shoulders."

Stewart is also poised to expand his race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, to three cars in Sprint Cup next year, and he is reaping publicity with his hiring of Danica Patrick.

At 40 years old, Stewart can't imagine slowing down right now, much less retiring. He's got too much to do.

But he's not relaxed. He's itching. The finishes from the first two races of the season leave him with a sense of urgency, even though he can look back at last year when he didn't have a win until the 27th race, the opener of the 10-race Chase "playoffs."

Can he get that hot again?

"I've always thought that, but you look at how our first 26 weeks went last year, I never would have predicted we would have struggled that bad the first 26 weeks of the year," he said. "You look at it from that standpoint, you learn not to take anything for granted. The competition is getting better and better. You don't have that luxury of taking it easy. You've got 26 weeks just to get yourself into a shot for the championship."

Stewart might start heating up sooner than later. At Las Vegas last year, he led 163 laps but cost himself the win (finishing second) by taking a penalty for dragging an air hose from the pit box.

He said bad luck like that dogged him all year until the Chase began in Chicago.

Maybe not this year.

"It's nice to go back to some of these tracks where we ran well, but with this Chase format, you've got 26 weeks to get yourself in there, so you can't take it easy at the beginning of the year and think you're going to waltz into a spot in the Chase," he said. "You've got to get after it right away."

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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