KANSAS CITY, Kan. So far, 2008 hasn't been Tony Stewart's year.
The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is winless this season and, although he did make the Chase for the championship, Stewart hasn't done much in the first two races of the postseason to make anybody's list of favorites to win the title.
Even so, heading into Sunday's Cup race at Kansas Speedway, Stewart is one win or at least a couple of top-fives from becoming a serious contender despite beginning the Chase in 10th place.
After finishing eighth at New Hampshire and 11th last Sunday at Dover, Stewart is seventh in the standings, just 113 points behind series leader Carl Edwards with eight of the 10 Chase races remaining.
So, considering he hasn't yet had one of his typical streaks of top-five finishes this season, is Stewart going to be a factor over the next two months?
Qualifying 41st Friday for the 43-car field wasn't a good start to the race week, but a grim-looking Stewart tried to remain philosophical.
"I think Jeff Burton said it best last week it was my favorite quote of last weekend's race is that we're 20 percent into this, so there's 80 percent still to go. That's a big percentage still to go."
To have any real chance at another title, though, Stewart, who has only nine top-fives and 14 top-10s in 28 races this season, knows he has to get it going soon.
But Stewart said that the biggest thing in getting a streak going is finding the key to the so-called Car of Tomorrow, the bigger, bulkier car in its first full season and making its first start at Kansas. The new cars have been a handful for some teams, with the balance seemingly on a knife's edge.
"I think we can (get a streak going), but you never know," Stewart said. "From week to week, these cars are so sensitive that if you find something it's normally pretty big. So, it's just a matter of one day at a time right now."
But Stewart does have an interesting history on the 1.5-mile Kansas oval, where he has five top-10 finishes in seven starts, including a win two years ago when he was not part of the Chase and a tough loss a year ago, when he was a contender.
The victory came in a race where Stewart stretched his final load of gas to the limit, coasting across the finish line with a dry tank.
It appeared he would be the winner last year, too, when heavy rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder, stopped the race past the halfway point with Stewart leading. But NASCAR restarted the race after a 2 1/2-hour delay and Stewart wound up crashing out and finishing 39th.
Instead of coming away from Kansas leading the points, Stewart found himself fourth, 117 points behind eventual champion Jimmie Johnson. Stewart went on to finish fourth in the points. And his winless string now stands at 42 races, dating to Watkins Glen in August 2007.
So, does Kansas owe him a win?
"Racetracks don't owe you anything," Stewart said. "You do the best you can and sometimes it works for you, and sometimes it doesn't.
"We could have won that race last year, but we didn't. We won the year before, and somebody else would have won it if we had run out (of gas) sooner. You just go out and race."
The way the 26-race regular season went, nobody could have predicted that Stewart would be in the best position of the three Joe Gibbs Racing entries after the first two Chase races.
Kyle Busch, who won eight races and built a big points lead, is last in the 12-man Chase after finishes of 34th and 43rd, while Denny Hamlin, who began the Chase in fourth, is 11th after a 38th-place finish at Dover.
Jimmie Johnson, tied for second in the season points and awarded the pole Friday after Juan Pablo Montoya's lap was disqualified because of a rear shock violation, said he is still keeping an eye on all three Gibbs drivers.
"My thought is keep everybody in that danger column and fear everyone," Johnson said. "That keeps me on my toes and keeps my team on its toes.
"We all know what Tony's capable of and what Joe Gibbs Racing is capable of. ... Those guys have all the tools, it's just the communication that takes place, and putting it together and putting it on the racetrack. So I feel that all three of those cars are still a threat."