CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart admits he faces "a very steep, uphill battle" to avoid elimination Sunday from the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Dover International Speedway.
But he also readily admits that there's only so much he can do, and the frustration that a driver plays only so much -- or so little -- of a role in a sport that has become increasingly reliant on engineering is one of the reasons he will retire from Cup racing after this season.
"When we come off the truck [on Friday], we fight the same thing for three days and there's nothing I can do to fix it," Stewart told reporters Wednesday during a NASCAR-mandated media tour as part of his Chase obligations. "That's what's so frustrating for me as a driver. That is part of why I'm ready to do something different is because I can't make a difference anymore.
"I can't do different things with my feet and different things with my hands and run a different line and fix the problem. I used to be able to do that. I can't do that anymore. You just get so frustrated you can't see straight."
The three-time Cup champion joked about trying to not get suspended for his final eight races if he said too much, acknowledging he is exhausted from trying to play a role of outspoken veteran in a sport where he believes the drivers are often afraid to share their feelings.
"You can only beat the drum for so long and it can only fall on deaf ears for so long before you finally say, 'The people that need to make it better can't make it better,'" Stewart said.
Stewart, 45, said "I've had my fill of fighting the fight" as the driver to draw attention to issues of the way the sport operates.
"There's 39 of these guys that 99 out of 100 times won't say a thing about it to [the media] or NASCAR or anybody else, and I'm the one guy that most of the time will go, 'Man, this is a bad thing to talk about and I shouldn't talk about it,' but I'll get pissed off enough to talk about it," Stewart said.
"Because I believe it's worth talking about, and it's worth addressing and it's worth it at times when you're not getting their attention, you're like, 'OK, now I've got to go a different way to get their attention to do something about it.' That normally is when I get slapped on the hand with a fine."
That doesn't mean Stewart is dreading the next eight weeks. He is 11 points out of the current Chase cutoff heading into Dover, a 1-mile concrete track where he has struggled in recent years.
"I've got to go out and do the best I can with what I've got," he said. "Hopefully it's good enough. If it's not, it's not. ... Right now, I'm in a large, dark room and don't know where the wall is, let alone the light switch [to flip to run well]."
While Stewart plans to retire from Cup racing, he said he has told his sprint-car team management to be ready for him to run 40-50 races next season. He will have to wait until February to race because he will have screws taken out of his back -- he missed the first eight Cup races this year after suffering a broken back in a hard landing while driving a dune buggy -- in December. He said his first race next year will be on pavement and will be in someone else's equipment, but he wouldn't reveal more than that.
"I'm going to enjoy these last eight weeks, no matter what happens this weekend," he said. "Am I going to be upset if I don't make it to the next round? Yeah, absolutely. That's natural. That's what a competitor should be like.
"But if we don't, it's not the end of my year. I have got seven more weeks after this weekend to go and do the best I can, try to get another win and try to finish on a high note."