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Last updateMon, 27 Nov 2017 12am

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Summertime’s the right time for ‘Smoke’

Summer, Heat, Steamy Humidity, Slick Asphalt.   It’s Tony Stewart time.

That’s one way to explain why the three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion won his fourth Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola on July 7. Or that 24 of Smoke’s 47 career wins have come between June 1 and the close of NASCAR’s regular season in early September at Richmond International Raceway.

His third win of the 2012 season would give him the No. 1 seed were the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup to start this week. The win total matches that of Brad Keselowski, giving each nine Chase bonus points,  although Stewart has the tiebreaker on second-place finishes

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is normally a welcome stop on the tour for Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman.  Last Season Stewart-Haas Racing finished one, two in the July Race.  Newman won the Coors Light Pole for the LENOX Tools 301 then finished where he started with Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet running second. He won the pole again – his most recent, No. 49 – when the series returned in September for race No. 2 of the Chase. Newman looks to become the ninth driver to 50 career poles.

Stewart threw down the gauntlet at New Hampsire last season, winning NHMS’ fall race, the first of a record five victories during the Chase that gave him his third title.   Stewart and Newman each have won three times at the 1.058-mile track outside Loudon, N.H.  Newman has six poles and is the only driver to have won twice from a No. 1 start.  Ironically, Stewart failed to win at all last summer. Even he was mystified, suggesting that perhaps he didn’t even belong in the Chase. We saw how that worked out.

Unfortunatly neither Stewart or Newman were a factor at New Hampshire last Sunday.   Kasey Kahne spoiled Denny Hamlin’s heroic drive through the field and held on to win the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, all but securing a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with his second victory of the season.

Kahne led the final 66 laps, as fast-closing Hamlin ran out of time after starting deep in the field on a restart on Lap 240. Hamlin had dominated the race, but a miscommunication on pit strategy cost him track position in the late going, and Hamlin ran out of time after securing the runner-up spot.

Seven tracks remain on the schedule prior to the cut down to the top 10 in the points standings and two “Wild Card” qualifiers following the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond on September 8th. Stewart has won at all eight  of the remaining tracks.

Last Friday night Tony Stewart took home the 2012 ESPY for “Best Driver” at the 20th annual ESPY Awards on ESPN, beating out four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and NHRA champion Del Worsham.

Stewart put together an epic Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in what proved to be one of the most exciting seasons in NASCAR history last year. Stewart won five of the 10 races in the Chase, narrowly edging out Carl Edwards in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to take home the title. 

“I am thrilled to win the ‘Best Driver’ award after what turned out to be a great NASCAR season last year. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the checkered flag when it mattered most,” said Stewart. “There were some great drivers and great champions in this category, so I cannot thank the NASCAR fans and everyone who voted enough for their unbelievable support.”

It is the third time Stewart has taken home “Best Driver” honors, winning in 2003 and 2006. Stewart was also nominated in the “Best Championship Performance” category this year.

“I want to congratulate Tony on winning the ESPY for ‘Best Driver’,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps. “His dramatic run to the championship highlighted his overall performance on the track last season, and we’re thrilled the sports world recognized this achievement. Hats off to Tony Stewart and the entire Stewart-Haas Racing organization.”

Jimmie Johnson, who was a presenter for the “Best Comeback Athlete” award during the ESPY telecast, won the “Best Driver” award in each of the four previous seasons.

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