WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) – Tony Stewart arrived at Watkins Glen International on the kind of roll a driver usually dreams about.

But momentum won’t matter when the green flag waves Sunday. A fifth victory in seven races would be attributable to hard work and preparation.

“Even though we won here last year and won this year at Sonoma, you want to make sure you’re keeping yourself at the top at a track like this,” he said. “With the technology being what it is today, you want to make sure that the place you’re going well at you want to keep going strong.”

That explains why Stewart chose to use one of his nine allowable tests on this 2.45-mile road course – where he has two career victories – rather than on a track where he’s not so dominant. The Glen and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., are the only road courses on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, and Stewart is now the master of the serpentine layouts with four victories in the last four years.

On Saturday, Stewart demonstrated the value of that test and another in the Busch series car. He won the Busch pole with a record-setting lap and was easily the fastest in the Cup session before rain forced its cancellation. As the points leader, he’ll still start first Sunday.

Lately, though he’s been the driver to beat everywhere, and came here after an emotional victory last Sunday at Indianapolis.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who decided on the test here, wants the roll to continue in the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen.

“We unloaded off the truck, and this thing is awesome,” Zipadelli said. “We’ve got to keep the intensity, keep the pressure on ourselves to perform, not slip up, not sit back and let our guard down.”

After his victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Stewart has a 75-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the standings with five races remaining before the top-10 cars will settle the championship over the final 10 races of the season. Stewart wants his second championship, but is driven by winning each week.

That scenario certainly seems more plausible than Stewart explaining how he became a great road racer.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, whose eight road-course victories are the most in history, would like to reclaim his dominance here. He’s won four times at the Glen, but hasn’t been to Victory Lane here since 2001.

Stewart is the main reason he’s no longer king of the road, and Gordon knows reversing that trend – and giving himself a good chance to move from 14th to 10th in the standings – will be difficult. In fact, a high, points finish, would satisfy him.

“Tony Stewart is the guy to beat this weekend,” Gordon said. “He’s got his confidence up on the road courses, as well as other races.

“We’ve got two races going on. We want to win, but we also know that what we need to get to get back in the championship is make sure we finish at the end of the day.”

What Gordon needs more than anything is to avoid a repeat of 2003, when he started on the pole and was last after one lap because Greg Biffle spun him out on the first turn.

Gordon spent the rest of the day trying to make it up. He reached third, but ran out of gas on the final turn.

, hit the wall and never reached the finish line.

Stewart is aware of the mad dash downhill to the first of 11 turns, and realizes the importance of staying out of trouble at the start and on restarts. He plans to be conservative if that seems wise.

“Sometimes, everybody has the mind-set that they have to do something early, whether it’s dive to protect themselves or to make a pass,” he said. “You’re kind of wearing each other out, so sometimes I’ll sit back for four or five laps and then make my move.”

Stewart finished fourth in the Busch race.


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