|Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs|
The 54th Annual Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond looked, at times, more like bumper car than NASCAR, but both Stewart-Haas Racing drivers finished in the top-10 with cars intact and a little momentum heading into Chicagoland for the first race in the 10-week Chase.
Stewart starts his pursuit of another championship with a 12-point deficit over series leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and Newman is nine points behind the leaders.
“If you're good enough, yeah, you can overcome 12 points,” Stewart said. “But I think the last two weeks have been awesome for us. Tonight was the best that we've run here (Richmond) in a long time. I think we ran 9th here in the spring but it was because we put four tires on at the end. Tonight we were on an even keel with everybody tire-wise and ended up with a solid top-10 run. It's definitely been a good two weeks for us. But we've got a long ten-week stretch ahead of us and we've got to be better than we've been the last 26 weeks. I'm proud of our guys. I mean, our guys have kept their heads up. But it's going to be a long ten weeks, but every Friday when we show up at the track we start with a clean slate and just do the best we can. So we'll keep digging.”
Both SHR cars were in the 2009 Chase, the first year the team was in existence. Newman narrowly missed making the field last year but had a better 2011 than Stewart with a win and enough points to tie down a spot a week before the season ended.
Although Stewart has seen increased pressure recently as the team owner signed Danica Patrick to run a limited schedule next year, both teams will have even more media obligations as the Chase begins.
The 2011 Chase field is packed with the series’ top drivers. As Newman remarked when meeting with media members after the Richmond race, “We've won a battle, now we have to win the war.”