Stewart wins his Holy Grail again; will another Cup follow?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Stewart, NASCAR's version of the ultimate streak hitter, is back on his usual second-half roll.

On Sunday, he won his second Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, the place the native Hoosier considers his Holy Grail.

Stewart's confidence is back in full swing after he won back-to-back races for the seventh time in his career.

That's not a good thing for the rest of the Nextel Cup drivers. The shark in an orange fire suit smells blood in the water. Don't get in his way or he will swallow you whole.

How confident is Stewart now?

Trailing leader Kevin Harvick by five car lengths with 15 laps to go, Stewart got on his radio and said, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty."

That's confidence.

How good is he?

Stewart moved back to the front with 10 laps remaining. Three laps later, he decided to take a quick drink while whistling down the frontstretch at 200 mph.

He calmly grabbed his water bottle and placed the straw in his mouth while steering his No. 20 Chevrolet with his knees.

"I was thirsty," Stewart said.

He's that good.

Any hint of an early-season slump is long gone.

"It just seems like a normal year," Stewart said. "This time of year when the tracks get hot and slippery, I pray for that. It matches my driving style."

Stewart went 19 races without winning this season. He showed his frustration along the way.

He was called to the woodshed twice this season, once by NASCAR and once by team owner Joe Gibbs.

Stewart claimed on his radio show in April that NASCAR didn't officiate races fairly. And he threw teammate Denny Hamlin under the bus three weeks ago.

Stewart blamed Hamlin after he ran into the back of Hamlin while they were running 1-2 at Daytona in the Pepsi 400.

That's just Tony being Tony. But he also is an extraordinary race car driver, the best of his generation. You can't keep him down for long.

As for his critics, Stewart couldn't care less. He made that clear after his signature fence climb in front of the home-state fans who love him:

"This win is for every one of those fans in the stands that pull for me and take all the bulls--- from everybody else every week."

Stewart is dishing out more than he takes now. His victory overshadowed a remarkable performance by Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Indy 500 in 2000 and finished second Sunday as a Cup rookie at the Brickyard.

"It was a great day for us," Montoya said. "But I had nothing for Tony. He was just too good today."

Stewart has won two of the past three Cup races at Indy. The past two Allstate 400 winners claimed the Nextel Cup at the end of the season.

With two victories this season, Stewart still trails Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with their four wins each. The Chase 12 will be seeded by wins for the first time.

But Stewart has six more chances to win before the Chase begins. Starting the Chase on top isn't out of the question. To do it, he'll need to win three more times -- and the Hendrick duo none -- down the stretch.

The rest of the Nextel Cup contenders might not admit it, but you'd better believe they have concerns about the best of the best getting hot when it counts. The last time Stewart won at the Brickyard, in 2005, he won the title.

It just seems like a normal year. This time of year when the tracks get hot and slippery, I pray for that. It matches my driving style.

Tony Stewart

Season points leader Gordon, who finished third Sunday, knows Stewart is a threat to keep him from winning a fifth championship.

"I still think we are a little more consistent than them," Gordon said of Stewart's team. "But they have a little more speed than us right now.

"They have a strong team. I still feel good about the championship, but I know we'll have to beat Tony for it, among other guys."

Stewart had to beat one of his favorite guys to take the checkered flag Sunday. Stewart had the dominant car most of the day, but Harvick got by him on a restart with 20 laps to go.

"I got really tight into Turn 1," Stewart said. "But I knew we could get a run on him. I was just trying to be patient. He's a hard guy to pass, but he's a clean guy. He's a great friend, and I can't think of a better person to pass for the lead here."

Harvick didn't give up the lead easily, holding off Stewart a couple of times before banging door panels on the backstretch after Stewart got past him.

But Stewart knew all along he had the better car and would reel Harvick in eventually, as his radio comment proved.

"We were about the only car that could stay with anybody that was leading the race,'' Stewart said. "I felt good in the car today. I was confident we could get back what we lost."

Gaining back what he lost is what Stewart does best when he really needs it.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak5.com.