Tony Stewart figures he has the rest of the NASCAR Nextel Cup races right where he wants them.
After an inconsistent and sometimes-frustrating start to the season, Stewart suddenly finds himself the hottest driver in the series going into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.
His last four starts have produced finishes of second, first, first and fifth -- four of his seven top-five finishes and both of his victories in 2005.
The last of those top fives was particularly impressive, with Stewart crashing in practice, starting a backup car from the rear of the field and charging into contention before the halfway point of the race last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Worse yet for the rest of the Cup competitors, Stewart's resume shows he is a second-half driver, with the majority of his 21 career victories coming on the back end of the schedule.
He will drive onto the 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval third in points -- the best position for the 2002 Cup champion with 18 races to go in his seven-year career. Stewart trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 151 points and Greg Biffle by 43.
"We're at that point of the season where the tracks are getting hot and slippery, and that's what we like," Stewart said. "When guys can't hold it wide open and they can't sit there on high-grip tracks and they actually have to drive these things, that's when we start getting fast."
New Hampshire has been a good track for Stewart in the past, with one win, six top-fives and seven top-10s in 12 starts. He also won an Indy Racing League event there in 1998.
There will be an added bit of drama this weekend, with the New Hampshire track one of several on the Cup schedule this year at which the cars practice Friday, qualify Saturday and then are impounded by NASCAR until just before the start of the race.
With only limited adjustments allowed when the teams get the cars back -- an effort to keep them from spending money on special qualifying parts and pieces -- a compromise between the qualifying and race setup is a must.
New Hampshire is a difficult racetrack, so the impound rule might have some drivers spooked before they race.
"It certainly doesn't help if someone has a bad attitude going in there," Stewart said. "It kind of puts a strike against you, but I'm not going to say that you're already beat. There are tracks that I've been to that weren't my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You've just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good."
Right now, it doesn't seem to take much for Stewart to be good on any track.
NASCAR's television ratings have generally been going up at every event this year, and the Pepsi 400 was no exception two weeks ago in Daytona. It was a really strong debut for NBC, which took over the Nextel Cup broadcasts from Fox for the second half of the season.
Despite a nearly three-hour rain delay at the start and finishing after 1 a.m., the Saturday night race was listed as the ninth most-watched TV show of the entire week.
Cup driver Jeff Green thinks he knows why.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Green said. "I mean, we're 'Fear Factor,' NASCAR is 'Law & Order' and the fans ended up at Daytona with something like a '48 Hours' mystery.
"All jokes aside, it's a tremendous feeling and I think everybody was excited about it. Then again, we were behind 'Dancing With the Stars,' so we're not there yet."