Smoke is back at Watkins Glen in need of a win, and the weatherman is cooperating. The forecast for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen is sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s.
That means Stewart will be in his element.
"I like it when it gets hot and slick. It kind of plays into our hands," said Stewart, who qualified 13th. "This is the part of the year when the temperatures are at their highest, and we tend to pick up. I think we can handle the slicker conditions sometimes a little better than some of the guys around us.
"A lot of guys panic because they know it's going to get slick. I get excited when I know it's going to get slick."
The last of Stewart's NASCAR-record five wins at The Glen was in the rain-delayed 2009 race on a hot, steamy Monday. He muscled an ill-handling car in the early going, then held off road race ace Marcos Ambrose over the final 21 laps for his 7th triumph on a road course, second all-time to Jeff Gordon's nine.
"It's great to have Tony back," Gordon said. "Tony is such an important part of this series and our sport and such a great personality and talent that when he is not here we all feel it."
Stewart needs a victory and quick. He ranks 19th in points with only five races remaining before the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins. Six drivers and 53 points separate Stewart from the top-16 cutoff necessary to make the Chase, but a victory Sunday would change all that.
A win and he's in.
"When you've won five races, it gives you that confidence that you know how to win, and know what you have to do to get to Victory Lane," Stewart said. "I know what I feel I need. It's just a matter of going out and practicing and putting yourself in that position."
Marcos Ambrose won the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International on Saturday. Making his first appearance in four years in a race he has dominated, Ambrose drove a flawless race from the fourth starting position after an early altercation with Kyle Busch, then held off a hard-charging Busch in the closing laps for his fourth straight victory in the event.
O Sunday, 11 a.m.
TV • ESPN