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Stewart needs to get back to basics

The adage in racing, "You need to slow down to go fast," is difficult to comprehend for a driver.

So is the idea that you become more patient as you get older.

As contradicting as both seem, both are necessary for Tony Stewart as I watch him battle his way through the season's first four events.

At 43 years old, Tony hasn't forgotten how to drive, although it often seems that way when you're behind the wheel of a race car that does little you ask of it and seems to defy you because it can.

The net result is frustration, anger usually delivered to your crew over the radio at 150 mph. If allowed to continue for too long, it can lead to monumental struggle and consume a season.

The solution? There's only one that I know of, and it's the same for all athletes experiencing a slump ... get back to the fundamentals.

I experienced slumps a few times in my career and survived all but the last. But it has to be a little different when you're a three-time series champ. Asking a driver of Tony's ability to pull back on the reins goes against all he has learned and all that led him to the success he has had.

The difference between then and now is the difference between giving advice and receiving advice, but it comes with the territory.

When you're at your best, drivers and crew chiefs throughout the garage seek your wisdom. They'll take anything you can offer to help set them on the path to success again. When you're performing poorly, you often get offered advice from everyone and anyone, in most cases without asking for it.

And all of this gets exaggerated when you're struggling to run top-20, while your teammate is in the midst of a historic stretch. Such is the case with Tony's teammate, Kevin Harvick, who I believe is demonstrating near perfection, the likes of which I haven't seen since 1997 and '98 from Jeff Gordon.

That stretch for Gordon is etched in my memory because I had the unfortunate timing of being Jeff's teammate at the time.

Trust me, as happy as you are for your friend and the team, it doesn't make life for you any easier having every human with an opinion suggest, "Why don't you put his setup in your car?"

It's a question that persists until you perform better or surrender to appease the masses.

The latter seldom works, by the way, but you have to do it to satisfy those involved, those you pay, and those who question if your best days are behind you.

It doesn't work because no two drivers are the same: Each has his own blueprint for success, each has a specific feel he depends on from his car, and most importantly, each has a level of tolerance as it relates to how close to the edge he can operate. Overthinking your circumstance, allowing all those opinions to diminish your resolve, often leads you down a dead-end road and ends ugly.

You cycle through crew chiefs, plead for rule changes, anything that can help you rediscover the magic that not long ago propelled you to Victory Lane. It's miserable for a driver and often extends the poor performance.

Here is the good news for Tony Stewart fans. Tony can survive it because Tony has always been an exceptional talent, and Tony Stewart at 95 percent is still a better choice than three-quarters of today's drivers at 100 percent.

Problem is, the remaining 25 percent will be impossible to beat if Tony cannot or will not exercise the patience of going back to the fundamentals. He knows what they are: Drive your car to its ability, and focus not on trying to go faster but on what's preventing my car and me from going faster.

Most importantly, deliver that information succinctly to your team.

The reason you don't try to power through an ill-handling car is that it will lead to overdriving, which results in the car sliding both front and rear tires while compromising your information, perhaps leading to wrong information -- and more frustration.

Help your team help you repeat this exercise week after week, along with little things like being the first to hit the racetrack for practice, staying on the track when you're productive, getting back to the garage when you're not.

Tony more than likely needs to finish top-15 consistently before he can finish top-10 on a regular basis, and only then will he be back to the form that led him to Victory Lane 48 times at NASCAR's highest level.

This is attainable for Tony, though it isn't for most his age, and it won't come without a price.

Often the price is eliminating all distraction, because for an athlete, distraction is poison. We're all guilty of making things too difficult as we grow older, acquiring assets and luxuries or committing time to things that had no influence in the early days of our careers.

Kevin Harvick has done an exceptional job of eliminating distraction in his life over the past several years, and the results speak for themselves. He has never performed better.

If a baseball player is mired in a slump, he will enhance the slump by swinging for the fences, but the only stat he increases is strikeouts.

The same exists for a driver. Focus on a base hit, even a bunt if that's what is required to regain the feel missing from your game.

Tony Stewart hasn't lost the ability to drive race cars fast, just the mental ability to organize the process that results in winning races.

Focus on the fundamentals, and try like hell to be patient.