It wasn't a suspension adjustment, an aerodynamic tweak or coaxing an extra ounce of horsepower from the Home Depot Chevy's engine that has catapulted the Joe Gibbs-owned team into second place in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings.

It was a change of scenery for its driver, Tony Stewart.

Following the 2004 season, Stewart moved out of his home near Charlotte, leaving behind all the distractions that come with being a famous -- and sometimes controversial -- figure living in stock-car racing's hub, and moved back to his home town of Columbus, Ind. He lives in the three-bedroom, tree-shaded house in which he grew up.

Those around Stewart say moving home has transformed him from tempestuous to, well, downright calm. And focused. He's won three of the last five races -- taking checkered flags at Sonoma, Daytona and New Hampshire -- and has pulled within 66 points of series leader Jimmie Johnson entering Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"He's much more relaxed" since moving, Stewart's Crew Chief, Greg Zipadelli, said. "He's showing up at the racetrack really focused on winning and learning to control some of the things that used to aggravate him or be a distraction to him."

Stewart has repeatedly said he would trade just about anything, including his 2002 Cup championship, for a chance to kiss the bricks that mark the start-finish line at his beloved Brickyard, which is located 45 minutes north of Columbus.

"Any kid that's ever grown up in Indiana knows what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway means," Stewart said. "It's definitely my biggest race of the year. It always has been. It probably always will be."

Stewart's history in Indianapolis, however, is one he'd rather forget.

Stewart, an open-wheel-racer- turned-stock-car driver, has led a total of 122 laps in his five starts driving an IndyCar in the Indianapolis 500, just not when it mattered most. Twice mechanical failures blew his chances.

It's been no easier since Stewart, 34, moved to NASCAR seven years ago. In 2001, he hit the wall late as he challenged for the lead. A year later, he won the pole position and led four times for 43 laps but wound up 12th. In a moment of frustration, "Terrible Tony" let his infamous temper get the best of him and punched a photographer.

Stewart drove back into contention again in 2003, when he led three times for 60 laps, but his effort was sabotaged by a sloppy final pit stop and a poorly timed caution flag that conspired to relegate him to another 12th-place finish.

"It's just a tough place to win at," Stewart said. "I mean, it's not one of those situations where if I never win there, my career is not going to be complete."

Perspective, it seems, is something else Stewart has found since moving back to Columbus, where he's just Tony Stewart, the guy next door, not Tony Stewart, the racecar driver.

Stewart has the same neighbors he did as a boy. He's joined the Moose Lodge and Eagles Lodge. He hangs out with his childhood friends, goes bowling, stops at the Dairy Queen for a chocolate milkshake.

"People don't freak out when they see us and get that excited," Stewart said. "It's just more [that] I'm just another member of the community to most of them now. That's the way we want it."

Being at home has calmed his nerves, too. Gibbs acknowledged as much after a recent practice.

"I think Tony has been great every year," Gibbs said. "He's just handling things better."

The 550 miles that separate Columbus from Huntersville, N.C., where Joe Gibbs Racing is based, hasn't been an issue. Stewart can make the trip, door to door, in about three hours, thanks to his private jet.

"I had a friend of mine tell me, 'You're a totally different person when you get on that plane and when you get off that plane,' " Stewart said.

"Being home and knowing that every weekend when the race is over, I'm going back to the exact same house I lived in when I was 10 months old. Just being able to go home and get away from the stock-car scene for a couple days is a nice break. It just helps you be a lot mellower that way."

He is certainly mellower. Most of the time. Stewart couldn't hold back when asked about yet another break with tradition at the track he holds so dear. He admitted that he "freaked out" when the Brickyard agreed to host a race other than the Indianapolis 500 but has since learned to accept the addition of the NASCAR race. Stewart can't, however, accept the fact the NASCAR recently sold the naming rights to the Brickyard event, which is called the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

"I'm not saddened," he said. "I'm furious about it, to be honest. It would be like saying the McDonald's 500 for the Daytona 500 this year. I don't understand what they were thinking there. I mean, there's one thing in breaking some traditions, but to commercialize everything, I think they could have done it different. We don't make the rules."

On Sunday, Stewart hopes to show off his "signature" move, which involves him slithering out of his car after the race, climbing the catch fence at the start-finish line and taking the checkered flag from the starter.

But he was careful not to get ahead of himself.

"Let's just worry about winning it first," Stewart said. "Then we'll have to figure that part out."

"He's . . . learning to control some of the things that used to aggravate him" since moving home, crew chief Greg Zipadelli said of Tony Stewart, above. Tony Stewart isn't besieged by autograph seekers in his home town of Columbus, Ind., where he moved last year.