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Tony Stewart: ‘It’s one of the coolest times (in NASCAR), even though it’s kind of a crisis situation’

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 - Practice

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 - Practice

Getty Images

Even while caught in the worst downward spiral of his Sprint Cup career, Tony Stewart is pleased by the direction NASCAR is taking to improve its racing.

In an interview with The Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer that was published Saturday, the three-time Sprint Cup champion said he was encouraged by a recent meeting with NASCAR officials as part of a newly formed driver council.

“For the first time in 17 years that I’ve been in this series, we actually have a group from NASCAR that says, ‘What do you guys think?’ ” Stewart told The AP. “I think it’s one of the coolest times, even though it’s a kind of a crisis situation, it’s cool to see NASCAR and the teams working together.”

NASCAR will try a lower-downforce rules package for the July 11 race at Kentucky Speedway, the brand of a 1.5-mile oval where lead changes have been lacking this season.

Stewart believes a lower-downforce approach is the right path toward improving the action, but he also recommends reducing an emphasis on aerodynamics.

“Make the aero not as important and make the mechanical grip more important,” the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said. “Mechanical grip doesn’t know where the air is, doesn’t know if there’s a car in front of you or behind you or whenever. That’s my two cents, and it comes from 37 years of driving 25 different types of race cars, but that’s apparently not enough information for them to consider that valid.”

This year’s rules, which featured a decrease in downforce and horsepower, are partially why Stewart hasn’t been able to get comfortable in the No. 14 Chevrolet. Through 15 races, he is ranked 26th in points with one top 10.

“I would say it’s me and the package,” he told The AP. “For some reason, it just doesn’t suit what I am doing. All the cars I grew up driving had a much higher power-to-weight ratio than what we have right now. I’ve never really been good with low-horsepower cars. It’s not how I’m used to making a living.”

Has it hurt his confidence?

“What’s that? I should Google that and see if I can find the meaning of that word,” he joked. “I don’t have any confidence.”

Stewart did defend crew chief Chad Johnston, who took over before the 2014 season.

“Every week we come here, we are optimistic we are going to have a good week,” Stewart said. “There’s not a week that I show up and don’t think I can win. Chad shows up every week trying something different. I feel like I’m holding him back. I’m holding this team back.”

Stewart has missed significant chunks of the past two seasons. He was sidelined for the final 15 races with a broken leg in 2013 and then missed three races last August after striking and killing a driver during a sprint car race.

He said it’ll take more than just a win to put him on the right path.

“It’s going to take more than one race,” he said. “We could win a race anywhere right now, and I wouldn’t say, ‘We’ve got it fixed, we found it.’ Consistency is what I’m looking for more than that one win. I’d honestly rather have five top fives than just one win right now.”