<
>

Tony Stewart says he has 'whole different mindset' as Chase begins

CHICAGO -- After wrecking two drivers he felt didn't race him cleanly in the past two weeks, Tony Stewart says he isn't worried about NASCAR watching him extra close during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

It isn't because Stewart is taking an attitude that he would accept any NASCAR punishment, an attitude that he has displayed in the past. He just believes he'll have to race with a little less retaliation on his mind in his final Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stewart, speaking Thursday at the Chase media day, indicated he will have a different philosophy over the final 10 races of the season than when he turned Brian Scott at Darlington two weeks ago and cut into the nose of Ryan Newman at Richmond last week.

Asked about NASCAR officials possibly watching him more, Stewart said, "It doesn't matter if they do or don't."

"It's time for the Chase now," he said. "It's a whole different mindset and a whole different approach each week. We've got to go out and worry about what we have to do to win a championship and not worry about the other stuff."

Stewart, who will retire from Sprint Cup racing after this season, has not made the Chase since 2012. Will he retaliate against another driver who hits him three times, as Newman did at Richmond?

"Probably not," said Stewart, a three-time Cup champion. "Even in this first phase [of the Chase], there's half of the field that is not even a factor in what the 16 of us are trying to do. You've got to sit there and race a little different.

"When you're locked in the Chase and you're where you need to be in points and couldn't get knocked out, it's a little easier to let the other stuff be a distraction. ... There's times that guys are going to lean on you and you're going to have to look the other way, but it's what you have to do to win this thing."

Newman, who was a long shot to make the Chase at Richmond, called Stewart "bipolar" and said he had "anger issues" after being taken out by Stewart, his former car owner and teammate. NASCAR has said it would get the two drivers together Friday if they do not talk before then.

Stewart said he expects that meeting to happen Friday. He also said he expects NASCAR to warn them against a potential repeat of last year's incident in which Matt Kenseth retaliated against leader Joey Logano at Martinsville. Kenseth, who was down nine laps when the incident occurred, was suspended for two races.

"I would say it probably will just happen at the trailer," Stewart said. "They're trying to make sure they don't have a scenario like what they had last year with Joey and Matt.

"I think it gets a little bit blown out of proportion for each individual incident, but they're just making sure they don't get themselves in that kind of scenario."

While the two drivers haven't talked, Stewart said he isn't taking Newman's comments personally.

"That was a deciding factor in his season, whether he was going to make the Chase or not," he said. "We've been friends a long time, and teammates, and I respect him a lot. It's a high-pressure moment.

"I've been in those, too, and I've said things. Whether he meant to say it or not or whether he still believes in it or not, it's up to him. That moment is a hard moment for any of us."