Tony Stewart returned from a back injury in April, and the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion is in pursuit of one of the 16 spots in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in his final season. Here’s a look at where the driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet stands in his hunt after Saturday’s fifth-place finish in the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advanced Auto Parts at Kentucky, the season’s 18th of 26 regular-season races.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED
The Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner/wheelman had one of his best races of the season in his 600th career Sprint Cup start, finishing fifth. It was Stewart’s second top-five finish of the season; his only other finish among the top five was his win at Sonoma. Stewart started 22nd, and had enough fuel left to continue running near the front at the end.
He now sits 31 points inside of the top 30 — which is where he needs to be in order to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and compete for his fourth championship. As it stands now, he’s in.
WHAT HE NEEDS
Stewart received a waiver from NASCAR for Chase eligibility. The surest way into the Chase is by winning before the end of regular season (at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10) — which Stewart did at Sonoma — and remain in the top 30 in the points standings. En route to his 2015 championship, Kyle Busch faced a similar path after missing the first 11 races with a leg injury. With the win now in the bank, Stewart can focus on reaching the top 30. He sits 30th in the standings with 248 points, 31 points ahead of Brian Scott ’s 217 points. Stewart is 15 points back of David Ragan for 29th in the standings.
“Smoke” heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where he has three victories. In his 33 starts there, Stewart has 14 top fives and 18 top 10s.