Racers are a different breed of athletes when it comes to their approach for their games on any given day.
Be it their mental approach in order to focus and ready themselves for a 600-miler at Charlotte or the physical preparation needed to let their cars "hang out" when it's all on the line, any driver around the world knows how much work's put into a day's work in the office.
For Tony Stewart, there's probably nobody else more devoted or passionate when it comes to success in motorsports than well, himself.
It's one thing to have the physical and mental mindset working in tandem - after all, it's beyond just driving a car around in circles or driving as fast as possible.
If the 20th century had A.J. Foyt as the epitome of the all-around racer who not only acclimated to any vehicle, then his contemporary would have to be Stewart.
A champion in USAC (a Triple Crown titlist in 1995), IndyCar, and NASCAR Sprint Cup racing (2002 and '05), Stewart's shown his inept ability of winning, no matter the venue or time in terms of rest and energy.
There's no stopping "Smoke," who occasionally dabbles in a dirt track event or open wheel race during a busy Sprint Cup weekend. Usually, if he's racing at a non-companion race at a local short track, more often than not, he finishes near the front.
Aside from his aggressive (and sometimes misunderstood) demeanor, about the only thing that could derail a day at the races for Stewart are unforeseen problems, like mechanical gremlins or an accident.
Even then, the only time to count out the 39-year-old racer is when the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet is all loaded up in the hauler for an early trip to the shop.
When Stewart and his team look back at the 2010 season, they'll see it as a year of frustration and missed opportunities despite winning a pair of races during the final stretch of the year.
In terms of missed opportunities, it was a case where the team wasn't able to string together consistent, strong finishes that would offset their lost days at the track. Witness:
After a 23rd at Darlington in early May, Stewart logged four consecutive top-15 finishes, including a 15th at Charlotte, third at Pocono, fifth at Michigan, ninth at Infineon, and a runner-up at New Hampshire.
Strong performances like these often translate to momentum, which appeared to be with the No. 14 group, especially after their Daytona disaster of 25th.
Considering that Stewart amassed five straight top-10 finishes from Chicagoland to the August race at Michigan, it was only a matter of time before he would return to Victory Lane.
Unfortunately for "Smoke" fans, the only highlights from Michigan onwards were wins at Atlanta and Kansas as well as a fourth at Kansas and eighth place result at the season finale in Homestead-Miami.
Otherwise, it was a forgettable conclusion to a season that looked promising for the lead driver of Stewart-Haas Racing, who appeared to be a bit phased by the implementation of the rear spoiler.
That's because their mother ship (aka Hendrick Motorsports) also struggled with the change, looking more mortal than their competitors like Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Sharing some resources with Hendrick, while a strong suit for SHR when it comes to setups and alliances on the track, when it comes to crunch time, this partnership can be somewhat "thrown out the window."
Playing devil's advocate, if you were Rick Hendrick, naturally, you'd be inclined to share some of your best resources during the so-called "regular season," or the first 26 races of the year.
All things considered, this was somewhat displayed in 2009, when just about five of the 12 Chase seeds were occupied by a Hendrick affiliate, be it from his team's shops or a "satellite" team like SHR.
However, things took a considerable step back this past season, when only Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart captured Chase seeds in what was something of an off-year for a Hendrick-associated Chevrolet effort.
Their weakness was greatly displayed during the Chase, especially with Stewart. Of the 10 races that make up the "postseason," the No. 14 team had seven finishes of 11th or worse, including four sub-top 20 results at New Hampshire, Dover, Charlotte, and Martinsville.
Well of course it is! Those are tracks where Stewart has excelled at in the past, but then again, well...that's the past.
Moving forward to 2011, it'd be remiss to think that Stewart, crew chief Darian Grubb, and the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet team will not be a factor for wins and the championship.
Consider this: only once has Stewart "missed" the playoff cut, which was in 2006. During that year's Chase, he scored a trio of victories, a runner-up and fourth place result.
Naturally, the natural talent wants to compete for titles every season, and he will indeed do that in 2011.
Even when he's not in contention for a championship, he still gives it his all to bring his team home with the best results possible.
Some observers have noted that there's a certain air of confidence surrounding the Stewart-Haas Racing campus.
Perhaps there is, given the optimism surrounding their renewed sponsorship commitments as well as a clean slate with the new season just around the corner.
Given how strong Stewart was at times in 2010, if there are more races like the ones he had at Atlanta and Fontana, expect to see the '09 version of the owner/driver than last year's edition, who was confused and flabbergasted at his team's inconsistency at the races.
Look for this bunch to take home the sixth position in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, winning at venues where Stewart's had tremendous success in the past.
Tracks like Bristol, Martinsville, Atlanta, and Daytona ought to be circled by the No. 14 team, where they are capable of not only putting together dominant afternoons, but trips to the winner's circle.
Nobody will be more determined and driven to dominate and triumph in the Sprint Cup Series than Tony Stewart, who just might be the best dark horse pick of the top-12 Chase drivers heading into 2011.