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NASCAR's Tony Stewart is hoping for better days ahead

Tony Stewart looks at the pit stall of his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and sees a brick wall.

"We're desperately trying to figure out what it's going to take to move the needle," he said Tuesday during a conference call.

The setup for the call was all about good mojo coming up in July: New Hampshire, where he has three victories and 14 top-five finishes; Eldora, where he celebrates 10 years of ownership; and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his home turf.

But everything circles back to where he has been, not where he's going. Stewart has no mojo right now. He is 28th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, with only one top-five finish.

It's an unfathomable place to be for a three-time season champion.

"I mean, the whole year's been frustrating. ... We're trying a ton of things and just can't seem to find anything that moves the needle and seems to make significant change," he said. "Just seems like the further we go into the year, the more frustrating that gets, too."

Stewart's struggles coincide with the horrific circumstances of a tragic detour in his life: an on-track accident at a Canandaigua Motorsports Park dirt-track night race that led to the death of Kevin Ward Jr. in August.

Stewart clipped him, inadvertently, after Ward got out of his car and walked up the track. Stewart took off three weeks to gather himself, then returned to race in Atlanta after sitting out three races.

His results since then: Two top-fives.

Stewart has been through a world of hurt. It was evident when he resurfaced in Atlanta. He sounds better these days, but that edgy Tony Stewart remains missing in action.

At least the Chase format holds promise. All it takes is one victory and Stewart could be locked into the Chase.

"I feel like every weekend it's the weekend we're going to find it. ... That's your reason not to give up," he said. "That's your reason to keep fighting every week and show up at the track with the same attitude you did the week before. You can go out there, win the race, get everything going."

Stewart hasn't won since Dover in June 2013.

Danica Patrick-Dale Earnhardt Jr. dust-up

Things always go bump in the night, or daytime, in NASCAR. No biggie. Until it involves Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Internet didn't blow up when the two collided in Kentucky last weekend, but there was definitely smoke and fire.

To review: Earnhardt sent her spinning when he tapped her car from behind. He radioed that he had brake issues. Patrick responded with some fiery words: "[Bleepin'] 88; did he [bleepin'] hit me?" she said over the radio.

And then to make things worse, she nudged his Chevy during the ensuing caution. The commentators assumed Patrick didn't know the circumstances of what happened, but she did. Her crew relayed that Earnhardt had brake problems, and she still chose to retaliate.

"I mean, what am I supposed to say other than the truth?" Earnhardt said. "We didn't have any brakes going into the corner. I know better than to run into her because it gets so much attention. There was nothing I could do. As hard as I hit her, what the hell did she think I was doing? Trying to wreck her?

"It's not like we were having a problem out on the racetrack with her. It's not like I just drew her name out of a hat and decided she was the one I was going to run into tonight."

Patrick declined to talk to reporters after the race, adding to the edgy theme of the night.

It's good to know that Patrick will not back down. She is, after all, a one-woman show on the Cup circuit.

But that cheap-shot retaliatory move was over the top. She needs to put the brakes on it.

sports@latimes.com

Diaz covers motor racing for the Orlando Sentinel

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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