INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Stewart heads into Indianapolis Motor Speedway at peace, finally able to relax when it comes to the only track that matters to him.
His storybook victory at the Brickyard last season fulfilled a lifelong dream for Stewart, giving him a win at the home-state track that had tormented him his entire professional career. His trophy now sits proudly in his living room, proof that Stewart officially conquered his demons.
Now he'll return for Sunday's race free of the stress, nerves and pressures he carried into his previous 12 visits.
"I think for the first time we're actually going to be able to go there - and the first time in history, actually - kind of relax and have fun with it," Stewart said. "Not having to answer the question about what it would mean to finally win at Indy is going to take a lot of the pressure off.
"That's why I am 100 percent sure this is going to be a fun weekend. No matter the outcome, I know that when I go home Sunday night, I will still have my trophy there from last year."
It's a good thing Stewart is at ease, because the defending Nextel Cup champion is still in the center of controversy created two weeks ago when he wrecked Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards at Pocono Raceway.
After speaking with Bowyer, Stewart publicly apologized for his role in the accident. Angry that Bowyer's hard racing had squeezed him into the wall, Stewart intentionally swerved into Bowyer's car. Edwards was collateral damage in the wreck, and it ended any chance he had of making the Chase for the championship.
Stewart, who despite serving a one-lap aggressive driving penalty raced his way back to a seventh-place finish, is still accepting the blame.
"I think I went a little overboard at Pocono for sure on my side of it, but, you know, I was frustrated that I got pushed in the wall," Stewart said.
For the next six weeks, Stewart needs to try his hardest to pull himself out of the storm. Accidents in the past two races have dropped him to 10th in the standings, with just a 15-point margin over Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Only the top 10 drivers will make the Chase, and there's only six races left to secure a spot in the playoffs. And missing out would be devastating for the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team.